Ken Giles and the Blue Jays reached the decision they’d been hoping to avoid on Monday, as the club announced its star closer will undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.
Giles will leave the team on Tuesday to begin the process, which is also likely to wipe out most or all of his 2021 season. Giles, who turned 30 on Sunday, is a pending free agent.
Giles' elbow issues began in 2019, when he was placed on the injured list in June with right elbow inflammation and was often limited in terms of how often he could pitch back-to-back days. It didn’t seem like a major issue at the time, though, given that his IL stint was brief and Giles still performed as one of the best closers in baseball, posting a 1.87 ERA with 83 strikeouts over 53 innings.
It grew much more serious when Giles hit the IL again in the first series of 2020 against the Rays. Giles lost his velocity, lost the strike zone and left the mound clearly experiencing discomfort. After missing all of August, Giles returned on Sept. 11 and made two more appearances, but his velocity still wasn’t there. On Sept. 16, Giles was placed back on the IL with the same injury, which was first diagnosed as a forearm strain.
“I wasn’t hoping for that, because he bounced back last time,” said manager Charlie Montoyo. “We don’t have that much time anymore, so there’s no way he can rehab that. It looks like that’s the best path going forward for him personally.”
Even prior to the decision to undergo Tommy John surgery, it was understood that Giles likely wouldn’t return this season as the Blue Jays make their first postseason push since 2016. They will continue to find ways to patch things over, likely turning to a combination of Rafael Dolis, Anthony Bass and A.J. Cole in the late innings with no set closer.
For Giles as an individual, though, this very difficult decision comes just as he was about to reach free agency for the first time. When Giles was aquired from the Astros on July 30, 2018, he brought with him the reputation as a hothead. Over two-plus seasons with Toronto, Giles emerged as a leader on whom younger pitchers leaned, even while he rehabbed. Giles also seemed comfortable, a shift that was noticeable entering the 2019 season when he “came out of his shell” to accept more help with his mental game after being a “lone wolf,” as he put it, earlier in his career.
“He was a great clubhouse leader. He was awesome. I love the guy,” Montoyo said. “When he was on the mound, when he was healthy, he was one of the best relievers in baseball. In the clubhouse, he was great with everybody. He was a great teammate. I don’t think people realize that about him.”
Over 78 appearances with the Blue Jays, Giles has recorded 38 saves with a 2.83 ERA and 111 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings.
Merryweather hits the IL; Shoemaker activated
Giles wasn’t the only bad injury news for the Blue Jays on Monday. Right-hander Julian Merryweather was placed on the 10-day IL with right elbow tendinitis after being unavailable out of the bullpen recently. Merryweather flashed some serious potential in his first MLB action this season, but his velocity dipped recently, causing worry.
Matt Shoemaker makes his return from right shoulder inflammation, though, and got the start on Monday against the Yankees. Shoemaker was limited to under 60 pitches, but he could line up as the club’s No. 3 playoff starter if all goes well.
“Shoemaker is one of our best pitchers when he’s healthy,” Montoyo said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him pitch. He’s not going to be stretched out, we all know that, but it’s good to see him starting the game and we’ll see how far we can take him.”
Pearson inching closer to return
The club’s No. 1 prospect threw roughly two innings and 25 pitches in a live BP session against Blue Jays hitters at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, N.Y., on Monday. Nate Pearson has been on the IL since Aug. 19 with a right flexor strain, but he could return soon as a multi-inning arm for the Blue Jays, similar to how they’ve used other young starters like Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay and Merryweather in 2020.
“His power was back. He was 98, 98, 97,” Montoyo said. “It was good to see. His fastball had life in it and his breaking pitches were sharp. He looked good and he felt good after the BP was over.”
Other injury notes
• Jordan Romano (right middle finger pulley strain) is scheduled to throw a bullpen session on Tuesday. There’s no timeline for his return, but that would be a major boost for the bullpen after his breakout season.
• Rowdy Tellez (right knee strain) has been hitting in the cage and will hit on the field on Tuesday. He’s also been “jogging slowly,” Montoyo said.