CLEVELAND -- The injury bug that has decimated the Tigers’ pitching staff has now struck the most important arm in their present and future. Left-hander Tarik Skubal, who rose from ninth-round Draft pick to front-line starter amidst a breakout season, underwent successful surgery on the flexor tendon in his left elbow.
Dr. Neal ElAttrache performed the procedure Wednesday at his practice in Los Angeles. No timetable has been announced for Skubal’s return, but the typical recovery period is between six and nine months.
If the procedure sounds familiar, it’s the same one that former Tiger Matthew Boyd underwent in September, though his was performed by a different surgeon. Boyd, who was non-tendered by the Tigers last offseason, is currently on a rehab assignment in the Mariners' organization and aiming for a potential late-season stint with Seattle. He suffered a setback earlier this summer. Still, it's generally a quicker timetable to return than Tommy John surgery, which involves a replacement of the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow.
Skubal's procedure was initially exploratory before the root of the issue was found. He had been sidelined since leaving his start Aug. 1 at Minnesota with what was initially described as arm fatigue.
"It’s hard to be optimistic when you have one of your best players undergo a surgical procedure," manager A.J. Hinch said. "The positive side of it is we have resolution and there’s no longer lingering curiosity as to what was causing the issue. I’m not a doctor, I’m a manager, but I like that there wasn’t a singular event and all of a sudden it was this massive tear of some sort. I don’t know what kind of repair it was. I can’t even begin to describe it. But when a respected doctor’s office says 'successful surgery and expected to make a perfect recovery,' that’s good enough for me."
Skubal becomes the sixth Tigers starter or prominent pitching prospect to undergo surgery since 2020, Boyd included. Former top prospect and teammate Casey Mize underwent Tommy John surgery on June 15 and is expected to miss most or all of next season. Spencer Turnbull underwent Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2021, and won’t return until next Spring Training. Alex Faedo underwent Tommy John in December 2020 and returned early this season before sustaining a season-ending right hip injury that required surgery. Joey Wentz underwent Tommy John surgery on March 18, 2020, and returned last season; he's currently pitching at Triple-A Toledo.
Skubal underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017 while pitching at Seattle University. His recovery was one reason the Tigers were able to draft him in the ninth round in 2018, pairing him with Mize for a one-two punch of top pitching prospects.
Add in Matt Manning and Faedo, and the Tigers focused their rebuild on starting pitching, hoping to assemble a stingy rotation and have a surplus of arms available to trade for hitting help. Injuries, including a shoulder issue that kept Manning out for most of this season, have scuttled those plans and potentially contributed to Al Avila’s dismissal as general manager on Aug. 10.
With Skubal potentially out of Detroit’s plans for the start of 2023, the Tigers will head into the offseason with a potential rotation of Eduardo Rodriguez -- who’s expected back from the restricted list on Sunday -- Manning, Turnbull and Beau Brieske, who rose from 27th-round Draft pick in 2019 to a reliable starter this season but is likely to miss the rest of this season with right biceps tendinitis.
Faedo should factor in whenever he returns from hip surgery. So should Wentz, who’s expected to get another audition in Detroit’s rotation down the stretch after a couple of spot starts early this season, and Garrett Hill, who tossed a strong outing against the Guardians on Tuesday. Tigers prospects Wilmer Flores (No. 3 per MLB Pipeline) and Reese Olson (No. 9) could serve as insurance.
Whether that’s enough to help Detroit return to competitiveness will be a decision for Hinch and the next general manager.
“We’ve got to find a boss first before we worry about how where we’re going to move as an organization,” Hinch said. “Losing Tarik and Casey for any time, I think, has obviously hurt our team and hurt our winning. But again, there’s a lot that has to happen before we start to assess where everybody fits in. They can be on different timelines, different surgeries, different recoveries, the ups and downs of all that. They’re going to be a huge part of the Tigers when they’re healthy.”