PHILADELPHIA — Tyler Thornburg’s season is over before it began.
The righty, whom the Red Sox traded third baseman Travis Shaw and prospects to the Brewers for this winter, is to undergo season-ending surgery on his throwing shoulder Friday.
Nine months is the expected time for Thornburg to be major league ready, president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. That would be mid-March.
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“I’m sure that doesn’t mean it can’t be 10 months or can’t be eight months, but that’s what they tell me is the time period,” Dombrowski said.
The procedure is to treat thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) and is to be performed by Dr. Robert Thompson at the Barnes-Jewish Hospital, which is home to a medical center at Washington University for that syndrome. Mets pitcher Matt Harvey was operated on by the same doctor.
A rib is probably going to be removed in the surgery but Dombrowski was not definitive. Per the Mayo Clinic's website, thoracic outlet syndrome "is a group of disorders that occur when blood vessels or nerves in the space between your collarbone and your first rib (thoracic outlet) are compressed. This can cause pain in your shoulders and neck and numbness in your fingers."
“It’s been a long process for Tyler,” Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “It’s a situation where a lot of other avenues are exhausted before they get to this perspective. I know it was a frustrating situation for him at times because, he would feel good, and then wouldn’t feel quite as good, and we keep going forward on it.”
About three weeks ago, Dombrowski said, Thornburg first got word that thoracic outlet syndrome was likely the problem.
“He treated it with Botox shots; apparently that’s how you treat that,” Dombrowski said. “Made some strides, but again didn’t get through it. And then Dr. Thompson, who is one of the other specialists in the country who has done some surgeries on pitchers. He flew out there to see him on Tuesday, and later in the day on Tuesday they recommended that they feel that this is the problem. They finally feel that the only way to correct it after giving the Botox shots is to have the surgery.”
Thornburg was put on the disabled list with a right shoulder impingement to start the year, and in May, the Red Sox acknowledged they suspected something else was amiss. He was the centerpiece of a trade the Sox pulled off at the winter meetings, a trade that has so far worked out terribly for the team.
Thoracic outlet syndrome is difficult to detect.
“You always have it, you’re born with a system that you would basically, you’re susceptible to getting it,” Dombrowski said. “When he traces back to some things that he had last year, I’m sure he had it then, but again it’s not something that you look to treat right away. You look at shoulder strengthness. He did some chiropractic work last year. He got himself through it and felt fine and threw throughout the year.
“It’s not something that just develops. But your ribs – which basically cause the problem because that causes the pinching in most cases – they’re not straight. They pinch. Why it ends up happening at a certain time? Sometimes guys have it and they just keep on pitching with it. You just never really know.”
Last year with the Brewers, Thornburg had a 2.15 ERA in 67 innings with 90 strikeouts. Brewers general manager David Stearns told CSNNE in May that Thornburg was healthy when he was dealt. Dombrowski said Thursday that the Brewers shared all the expected medical info with the Sox.
“He was healthy,” Stearns said on the CSNNE Baseball Show podcast. “I am not particularly sure what the timeline was prior to when I got here, but he was healthy certainly when I got here in 2015, and throughout the 2016 season and did really an outstanding job for us.”