ST. PETERSBURG -- If the Rays are going to make another deep run through October, they’ll have to do so without ace Tyler Glasnow.
Glasnow underwent Tommy John surgery on Wednesday to address the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and flexor strain in his throwing arm. The decision was made Tuesday after Glasnow met with Dr. Keith Meister, who will perform the operation, but the 27-year-old right-hander sounded resigned even before that meeting to the idea that he will miss the rest of this year and likely all of the 2022 season as well.
“I’m not in any position to try to rush it. I just want to make sure I feel good,” Glasnow said Saturday during a conference call with local reporters. “I’m just really excited to be able to pitch pain-free. It’s frustrating, but the long-term investment of doing this, I just think it’s going to be really beneficial to me to come back strong, healthy and pain-free in 2023.”
Glasnow was in Texas on Friday for a follow-up visit with doctors and a scheduled throwing session at TMI Sports Medicine in Arlington. After throwing off the mound for the first time since going on the injured list, Glasnow knew he couldn’t realistically continue to pitch with that level of discomfort.
“I think it was something I knew I was going to probably get eventually. It was to the point where [I thought], 'Can I withstand the pain of trying to come back and throw this postseason and maybe get it done at the end of season?'” Glasnow said Saturday. “But with the feeling that I felt yesterday on the mound, I was like, ‘Yeah, there’s no way I can confidently go out there and pitch with this type of pain.’”
Glasnow was initially optimistic about returning in time for another postseason run with the Rays, thinking he could manage the pain and get back on the mound as soon as September. But he acknowledged that Saturday’s news makes that possibility remote. He said there is a “possibility” he’ll recover in time to return to the mound at the end of the 2022 season, but it’s more likely he will return in ’23 -- his final season before reaching free agency.
“I know he wants to be here. I know he wants to be competing,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said Tuesday night. “But he's got a big career ahead of him, and hopefully [after] this procedure that he'll have done, he does his rehab and gets back on a mound doing really great things like he's done for us for the last three seasons now. So I think most importantly, it's the clarity and the peace of mind for Tyler to have the procedure.”
Glasnow suggested that he hasn’t been able to pitch entirely pain-free since being sidelined by a forearm/elbow injury in 2019. He returned that September for four starts, followed by two more in the postseason, then worked another 86 innings between the regular season and playoffs last year.
“It’s been something that’s been bothering me for quite a while, and those last two starts or so, it kind of just put it over the edge,” Glasnow said. “It started to feel better when I was home, then as I started to stretch it out again, it was like, ‘It’s time to get this done.’
“It was something I considered, and I tried to build up. Just yesterday, especially throwing off the mound and kind of feeling that pain, it was very apparent that it was probably time to get it done.”
The 6-foot-8 right-hander ranked among the most overpowering pitchers in baseball before he partially tore his UCL and suffered a strain of his flexor tendon in his pitching arm in a start against the White Sox on June 14. He posted a 2.66 ERA with 123 strikeouts in 88 innings to begin this season, and he still ranks third on the team in wins above replacement despite having thrown his last pitch nearly seven weeks ago.
“I mean, it's Tyler Glasnow. When he's healthy, he's a top-five pitcher in the game,” Rays starter Shane McClanahan said. “So obviously it's a big blow, but we're all excited for Tyler to get healthy and have him back on the mound whenever he comes back.”
The Rays have handled his absence well enough, trusting young arms like McClanahan, Josh Fleming and Luis Patiño alongside starters Ryan Yarbrough and Michael Wacha. They did not address their rotation prior to the Trade Deadline, but this news coming before July 30 likely wouldn’t have changed that, as they entered the trading season with the idea that anything Glasnow provided the rest of this year would be a bonus.
“Disappointing, of course, to lose a pitcher of that caliber for the remainder of the season. You're not going to be able to replace him,” Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder said. “We'll figure out the best way for us to move forward knowing that he's not going to be part of it, more than likely, the remainder of this year. But [we] feel good about the fact that the longer view of his career is going to be where it needs to be, and he's just finally getting something like this taken care of.”
The Rays hope to have Chris Archer rejoin their rotation at some point down the stretch, although his rehab assignment is on hold due to left hip soreness, and top prospect Shane Baz could make his debut after returning from the Olympics later this month. Tampa Bay will also continue to rely heavily on its bullpen, which has posted an American League-best 3.06 ERA this season.
“We have a really good, talented group. And I'll lean on talent over experience down this home stretch,” Snyder said. “Just the invaluable reps that some of these young guys that are going to really carry us for the next few years are going to get playing meaningful games and potentially playing an additional month in October, I don't have any concerns whatsoever.”