ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- Marco Gonzales, who appeared in only 19 games at any level last season, will end his 2016 campaign before he even appears in one. The lefty, after weighing the options and conferring with his inner circle, will undergo Tommy John surgery to address the ligament damage in his throwing elbow.
The 24-year-old was considering the possibility of a non-surgical rehab route, but the long-term risk of such an approach is significant, especially for those whose career is in its infancy.
“When you look at sort of a conservative approach, and still end up having to have surgery, you’re starting to jeopardize the next year,” GM John Mozeliak said. “That’s a scary venture at his age.”
In other words, if Gonzales were to try rehab and have it fail, the later date of his surgery could push his recovery beyond 2017 and into parts of 2018.
The usual recovery time for Tommy John is 12-15 months, with some rehabs lasting as long as a year and a half. Adam Wainwright had the procedure at the end of February in 2011, and returned to an MLB mound on April 7, 2012, which is on the faster side of the spectrum. The Mets’ Zack Wheeler, who had Tommy John at the end of March last year, isn’t scheduled to return until July of this season.
Gonzales will have the surgery Friday, performed by Dr. Neal Elattrache, a well-known and oft-called-upon sports surgeon.
By all accounts, the Gonzaga product’s injury was acute, meaning it wasn’t wear that eventually damaged the ligament. From what Mozeliak was told, the tear happened on a throw after the Cardinals had optioned Gonzales out of spring camp.
2016 will be the second lost season for Gonzales, who missed nearly all of last year dealing with a shoulder impingement. He had successfully rebuilt his strength and was continuing to develop his expanding pitch repertoire this spring in Jupiter, and the two injuries appear unrelated.
With Gonzales out of commission, the organization’s pitching depth, which has been lauded as their signature strength, is eroding. Both he and lefty Tim Cooney figured to be the first names on the phone tree if support was needed from Memphis this season, but the former is done for the season and the latter hasn’t proven his health.
Cooney played a bit of red light, green light this spring, struggling with heavy soreness after throwing sessions. He appeared to have turned a corner as Grapefruit League play came to a close, but was unable to shake the discomfort in the ensuing weeks. He continues to undergo a rehab routine that focuses on strengthening his shoulder and increasing flexibility and stability, but there is no clear finish line on the calendar to work toward.
“The strategy with him is to continue with a conservative approach and we’ll revisit that in a couple weeks,” Mozeliak said. “There’s nothing that they’ve been able to identify that’s structurally wrong. So, when you’re just not feeling right, sometimes the best thing to do is rest, rehab and then try again.”
One alternative would be an exploratory arthroscopic surgery to see if doctors could identify a problem the MRI could not, but the Cardinals are not considering that option at this point.
With Cooney and Gonzales down, Deck McGuire and Jeremy Hefner now have elevated importance on the depth chart. Both arms were acquired this offseason and currently reside at Triple-A Memphis. McGuire was drafted in the first round in 2011, but has not pitched in the majors. Hefner threw for the Mets in 2012 and 2013, starting 36 games before two arm surgeries derailed his career.
Also in the equation is minor-league flame-thrower Alex Reyes, who is serving a 50 game suspension for marijuana use. He has somewhere around 40 games remaining on his sentence, but his 100-mph fastball and evolving secondary pitches give the Cardinals another choice if arms are needed.
Ruben Tejada will begin a rehab assignment in Double-A Springfield Thursday and could be available to the Cardinals as soon as Sunday or Monday if his quad responds