Whitlock has UCL damage, seeking opinion on surgery

May 21st, 2024

ST. PETERSBURG – While Monday was a mostly joyful night for the Red Sox as they watched set a club record by homering for a sixth consecutive game and another strong pitching performance by in a 5-0 victory over the Rays, there was also a concerning injury update.

Right-hander might not throw another pitch in 2024.

Following the game, Red Sox manager Alex Cora revealed that Whitlock has damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

“There’s damage in the ligament, so there’s a possibility he’ll get surgery,” said Cora. “He’ll fly to see the doctor this week and they’ll go from there.”

Whitlock will see Dr. Jeffrey Dugas in Birmingham, Ala., at which point it will be decided if he needs surgery.

Red Sox righty Lucas Giolito underwent an internal bracing procedure -- considered a ligament repair -- that was performed by Dugas in Spring Training. The other option would be Tommy John ligament reconstruction surgery.

The bracing procedure typically has a quicker recovery than Tommy John, though it would still likely sideline Whitlock for approximately a year.

In some cases, if the ligament isn’t completely damaged, a player gets a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection and tries rest and rehab rather than surgery.

In his four starts this season, Whitlock was 1-0 with a 1.96 ERA and looked like he might be on the verge of taking the same leap Houck and Kutter Crawford have taken under new pitching coach Andrew Bailey.

The Sox placed Whitlock on the 15-day injured list on April 17, a day after he suffered a left oblique strain.

Everything had been trending well for Whitlock as recently as last week, as he made a strong rehab start for Triple-A Worcester on May 15, firing 4 2/3 scoreless innings.

But the next day, while doing some standard post-start stretching of his arm with the training staff, Whitlock complained of elbow soreness.

He underwent a series of medical tests in Boston the past couple of days.

When Whitlock was in the Yankees’ farm system in 2019, he underwent Tommy John surgery. The Red Sox claimed him in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft from their rivals and Whitlock emerged as one of the team’s best pitchers during a ‘21 season in which they fell just two wins shy of the World Series.

Injuries to key players have turned into a recurring theme for the ‘24 Red Sox, who lost Giolito and star shortstop Trevor Story (right shoulder) with season-ending injuries. Slugger Triston Casas (torn cartilage in rib cage) and DH Masataka Yoshida (left thumb strain) are both out indefinitely.

The Sox have weathered the injuries reasonably well, particularly from a pitching staff that has led the Majors in ERA for most of the season. Boston, which came into the season with low expectations from the outside, has a 24-24 record and is just a half-game out in the Wild Card race.

“We’ve been through this path before,” said Cora. “I know it sounds harsh, but we’ve got to turn the page and be ready to go.”

Whitlock has dealt with adversity on the field in the form of various injuries, but even more off the field, as his brother, Gavrie, died tragically last September when he slipped on a dock.

“It sucks for the kid,” Cora said. “He’s been through a lot, but he’s been through worse in the last 12 months. He’s a kid that has faith. We talked about this before. He’s only looking up. He’s a believer. We’ve been praying for him and trying to stay strong for him and he will be strong.”

Houck, Whitlock’s best friend, vowed to be there for his teammate.

“Incredibly sad for him,” Houck said. “He's a strong individual and I know that he'll get through it. With that being said, on a personal level, I just keep him in your prayers and I’ll be with him as much as I can over the next few months. But he'll be back and he’ll be stronger than ever.”