Ryan sidelined for remainder of 2007
Closer undergoes Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery
TORONTO -- This time, there was no hiding the truth about B.J. Ryan's status. On Thursday, the Blue Jays' All-Star closer underwent Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow -- a procedure that will sideline Ryan until next season.
The decision to operate on Ryan's elbow, which has been bothering him since Spring Training, came after the pitcher still was experiencing pain despite three weeks of rest. Ryan, 31, had the surgery performed in Cincinnati by Dr. Timothy E. Kremchek, who recommended the procedure after meeting with Ryan on Tuesday.
"It's just something that had to be done," manager John Gibbons said. "He'll have all that behind him. It's a surgery that they get great results from nowadays. We won't have to worry about that anymore."
An MRI exam performed on Ryan's elbow on April 16 revealed a strained ulnar collateral ligament. On Thursday, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said that a bone spur near the ligament led to a tear, which needed to be repaired by surgery.
"He had a torn ligament, but the doctor was very optimistic," Ricciardi said. "[Kremcheck] said he felt the surgery went really good. He really feels by the time next Spring Training rolls around, [Ryan] will be ready to go. That was encouraging."
For now, the Blue Jays will aim to fill the void at the back end of the bullpen with their current cast of relievers. Both Gibbons and Ricciardi named right-hander Jeremy Accardo as a potential candidate for save opportunities, but neither wanted to commit to naming just one pitcher for the job.
"We'll give Accardo a chance," Ricciardi said. "I think [Casey] Janssen and [Scott] Downs will get a chance to do it at some point. We'll see. We'll probably just go with whoever is hot. I think if we named someone right now, it wouldn't be fair to the player that hasn't done it."
"We've got guys down there that can do it," Gibbons said. "We're not going to come out [and name a new closer], because on any given night it might be a different guy."
Ricciardi also downplayed any need to start exploring the trade market for a new closer. Ryan is under contract for $30 million over the next three seasons and Ricciardi said the Blue Jays probably can't afford to add a reliever whose contract lasted beyond this season. For now, it appears the Jays will try to solve the issue from within.
"I don't really see us making a trade for a closer," Ricciardi said. "We've got Ryan coming back next year, so we don't have the luxury of carrying two closers for a lot of money. So, it's probably better off for us to try to get through this internally. We just can't handle taking a lot of money and putting it in that role right now."
Ryan first experienced soreness in his throwing elbow during the spring. At the time, though, the Blue Jays informed the media that their closer was sidelined due to a back injury. It turned out that back issues weren't to blame for the two weeks of Grapefruit League games he missed.
Last week, during a radio call-in show on the FAN 590 AM in Toronto, Ricciardi admitted that the team intentionally fabricated the back problem to protect the pitcher from questioning by the press.
"It was his elbow that was bothering him. So we said it was his back so we could have a bit more time," Ricciardi said during the radio show on May 3. "There are a lot of things that happen that, if you let it play out, it ends up solving itself. If you bring attention to it, then a lot is made out of things that don't end up being a big deal.
"There's a lot of things we don't tell the media, because the media doesn't need to know it and the fans don't need to know it. They're not lies if we know the truth."
When the elbow injury flared up during the spring, Ryan consulted with renowned arm specialist Dr. James Andrews, who recommended two weeks of rest. Once that was complete, Ryan resumed throwing and began his second season as Toronto's closer.
On April 14, though, Ryan struggled mightily against the Tigers, blowing his second save of the season after walking three and allowing three runs. Afterward, the 6-foot-6 left-hander complained of pain in his elbow again and indicated to the team that it was worse than in Spring Training. At that time, Toronto shut Ryan down, placed him on the disabled list and revealed the true nature of his injury to the public.
Ryan then flew to Birmingham, Ala., where he met with Andrews to discuss the next step in his recovery. An MRI exam revealed a strained ulnar collateral ligament in Ryan's left elbow and Andrews and Kremchek advised a month's worth of rest before the pitcher began throwing again. The Blue Jays initially stated that Ryan might be able to return in four to six weeks.
During the third week of the four-week off period, Ryan underwent a physical test in Texas by Dr. Keith Meister. When the pain in Ryan's elbow had not subsided, the Blue Jays sent Ryan back to Kremchek's office in Cincinnati on Tuesday to discuss surgery options.
"Usually, when guys respond to the early testing, it's a pretty good sign that they're going to be OK," said Ricciardi, citing similar situations last season with pitchers A.J. Burnett and Gustavo Chacin. "[Ryan] was still feeling a lot of pain. At that point, we knew surgery might be in the future."
Last season, Ryan posted a 1.37 ERA and had 38 saves in his first season as Toronto's closer. The Blue Jays signed the southpaw to a five-year deal worth $47 million prior to the 2006 campaign. This year, Ryan was 0-2 with a 12.46 ERA and three saves in five opportunities.
"We hate to see him go," Gibbons said. "But it's going to help him in the long run and help the organization in the long run."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.