Stephenson to miss '24 season with elbow injury; surgery to come

April 18th, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG -- Reliever ’s first season with the Angels is over before he even threw a pitch with the club.

Stephenson will miss the 2024 season with a right elbow injury, the club announced after Wednesday’s 5-4 win over the Rays. It’s a major blow for the Angels, as Stephenson was their biggest addition in the offseason. He was signed to a three-year deal worth $33 million to be the club’s primary setup reliever.

The Angels announced on Thursday that Stephenson will undergo elbow surgery later this month and will announce more details closer to the date of the operation.

“It’s very disappointing,” manager Ron Washington said. “It’s certainly a huge void we have in our bullpen. But I think our guys are learning to pick up each other and that’s what we need. When one person goes down, another has to step up. But it’s a big void.”

The Angels, though, signed Stephenson to a unique contract deal that has a conditional $2.5 million team option for 2027 if he sustained damage to an elbow ligament that required an injured list stint of at least 130 straight days. The Angels will now be able to keep Stephenson in ‘27 for $2.5 million but have until after the 2026 season to make that determination.

Stephenson dealt with right shoulder discomfort in Spring Training and opened the year on the injured list. He made one rehab appearance with Triple-A Salt Lake on Saturday but was removed after throwing just four pitches, all balls, and complained of elbow discomfort.

He underwent further testing on his elbow this week, including receiving a second opinion. The Angels will announce more details on Thursday, but Stephenson is expected to undergo a season-ending operation of some kind.

Stephenson, 31, is coming off a strong season that saw him post a combined 3.10 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 52 1/3 innings with the Pirates and Rays. He found his groove with Tampa Bay, recording a 2.35 ERA with 60 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings.

He has eight years of big league experience with a career 4.64 ERA and 406 strikeouts in 364 1/3 innings with the Reds, Rockies, Pirates and Rays.

With Stephenson out, the Angels will turn to lefty Matt Moore as their primary setup reliever and will also use Adam Cimber, Luis García and Hunter Strickland in that role.

Entering Thursday, Angels relievers had posted a 4.83 ERA, which ranked 21st in the Majors. Washington, though, said he believes the bullpen has held its own because that's been asked of this group often this year.

He said it’ll be up to the starters to pitch deeper into the games and that it begins with getting ahead of hitters more, something the Angels have been preaching but not executing just yet. Angels starters have a first-pitch strike rate of 58 percent, which is the worst mark in the Majors.

“The [relievers] have fared very well but I think we’re going to need to take the load off them because we can’t keep this up,” Washington said. “We’re trying to put some pressure on our starting pitchers to go out there and pound that strike zone and get to the sixth or seventh inning. That’s all you can do. Constantly talk about it and go over it, and at some point these guys are professionals and will figure it out.”