KANSAS CITY -- Slugging Brewers first baseman Eric Thames faces an extended absence after an MRI scan on Wednesday revealed a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb.
The Brewers placed Thames on the 10-day disabled list and recalled right-hander Brandon Woodruff from Triple-A Colorado Springs to serve as an extra bullpen arm. While Thames is sidelined, hot-hitting Jesus Aguilar is the leading candidate to play regularly at first base, with Ryan Braun as the backup.
Similar injuries sustained by MLB stars Bryce Harper and Michael Trout in recent seasons suggest Thames will miss at least six to eight weeks. Harper, a left-handed hitter and right-handed thrower like Thames, tore the UCL in his left thumb sliding headfirst into third base on April 25, 2014, underwent surgery and returned to the Nationals' lineup on June 30 after missing a little more than two months.
Thames said he didn't feel a pop, but he "knew something was up."
Trout's comeback in 2017 was quicker. He tore the UCL in his left thumb last May 28, also sliding into a base. Trout underwent surgery, and he returned to the Angels about six weeks later on July 14.
Thames will undergo additional tests in Milwaukee before the parties make a decision about surgery as soon as Thursday evening.
"Personally, I feel like I let everybody down, but it's something I really couldn't control," Thames said. "I'll just be cheering from the side for a few weeks."
"It's an injury that we've seen in baseball before, an injury that has a very good recovery rate, and an injury that we know how to treat," Brewers GM David Stearns said. "We still have some tests and exams to go. Surgery is probably likely at this point. It's not a definite, but it is likely.
"Once he has the surgery, if that's where this goes, we'll have a more concrete timeframe for return. But it's obviously going to be a little while. We do fully anticipate him playing again this year, playing a significant portion [of the season] for us this year. But his season is going to be on pause for a little bit."
Thames leads the Brewers with seven homers this season. He went 1-for-4 on Tuesday night, and he was injured diving for a grounder in the eighth inning before Aguilar entered as his defensive replacement in the ninth.
The right-handed-hitting Aguilar has been a force in limited opportunities, batting .429 with a 1.116 OPS in his first 39 plate appearances. He has had a relatively even split so far between left-handed pitchers (17 plate appearances, 1.145 OPS) and righties (22 plate appearances, 1.091 OPS).
Braun has not appeared at first base since starting the Brewers' first two games of the regular season. But he got experience there in Spring Training in anticipation of playing some first to help ease a logjam in the outfield.
"It's certainly bad news," Counsell said. "Eric is an important part of what we've been doing. He's a big left-handed bat that is really not replacable. But [first base] is a position where we have multiple players. Right now, it'll be Aguilar and Braun getting most of the at-bats there."
"We do think we've got some pretty good depth in that area," said Stearns, who mentioned Triple-A first baseman Ji-Man Choi in addition to Aguilar and Braun. "We've got guys who are swinging the bat pretty well who can play first base. So Eric is certainly going to be missed, but it's an opportunity for other guys to step up and play more regularly."
• There was better news on Brewers catcher Stephen Vogt, who left the team Wednesday and traveled to extended spring training camp in Phoenix to get at-bats and continue his throwing program. Vogt will be there for a week or so, Stearns said, before the Brewers re-evaluate whether it's time to send him to an affiliate.
• There are currently no plans to use Woodruff as a starter, Stearns said. Instead, he will provide length in the bullpen while left-handers Boone Logan (triceps) and Wade Miley (groin) complete rehab assignments. At some point, the Brewers will need roster spots for both, and Woodruff is one of the Brewers pitchers who can be optioned. Miley's next Double-A start is scheduled for Friday. "There's probably a conversation that needs to happen after the outing on Friday," Stearns said. "I don't know that there's a definitive timeframe. Wade and his representatives and myself, we have a good understanding that everyone is working towards the same goal."