Scott Atchison, one of Boston's more reliable relievers from the past two seasons, is likely headed for Tommy John surgery after the discovery of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. A second opinion is needed before major surgery like this is performed, though, and the right-hander is going to get his from noted TJ expert, Dr. James Andrews.
Atchison will visit Dr. Andrews on Monday, August 6, and following that we'll know for sure if it's simply rest and rehabilitation that Atchison needs, or if it's time to open him up and perform a procedure that's become fairly common. The latter is very likely, but it isn't unprecedented for a pitcher with a torn UCL to be able to rest and wait for scar tissue to shrink the wound, either. It doesn't happen nearly as often, but there have been pitchers who were very effective after waiting it out, such as Adam Wainwright, who was diagnosed with a partial tear in 2004 that wasn't treated until the spring of 2011.
That was years and a thousand innings later, but at 36 years old, Atchison isn't likely to have 1,000 innings left in him, anyway -- he's thrown just over 1,200 between the majors and minors in a 14-season career. Either way, Boston will be without the reliever for the rest of 2012, and will have to lean on their considerable bullpen depth to fill the void left behind.
Should surgery be deemed necessary -- and there should be emphasis here that no one is expecting it to be avoided -- it's a huge blow for Atchison, who had just 2.168 years of service time according to Cot's Contracts. As such, he wasn't set to be arbitration eligible until the 2014 season, when he is 38 years old. This would be disappointing for any pitcher, but Atchison finally earned himself a permanent role as a major-league reliever after years of bouncing between the majors, minors, and even Japanese baseball. There's also the well-known fact that his young daughter is dealing with a rare medical condition that's expensive to treat, and that makes the news of Atchison's current predicament tug at the heart strings all the more.
Atchison is one of the good guys in the game, and we wish him a speedy recovery from whatever it is that ails him.