Ivan Nova will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery on Tuesday to repair a torn UCL.
The New York Yankees’ starter left in the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays on Apr. 19 after feeling a pop in his right elbow. An MRI later revealed the extent of the injury. Team doctor Christopher Ahmad recommended surgery, but Nova consulted a second opinion before finally agreeing to go under the knife.
It’s only April, yet Nova is the 15th pitcher to have the procedure this year. It’s tragic that Tommy John surgery has become an epidemic, but for Nova in particular, his age must have made the decision to have season-ending surgery more difficult than many of the other players on the list.
Like Nova, Matt Moore and Patrick Corbin will miss the rest of 2014 and possibly the beginning of 2015. Unlike Nova, they are both 24 years old. Even though they’re missing a full year of baseball, they’re still ridiculously young. They have so much time left in their respective careers, electing to have the surgery was really a no-brainer.
Nova, on the other hand, will be 28 when he returns to baseball. After struggling with inconsistency earlier in his career, this was supposed to be the season he finally arrived. No more development and no more using youth as an excuse for bad outings; 2014 was supposed to be the season he became a quality starter. Instead, it was more of the same in the early going. In four starts this year, he was dominant in two (13.0 IP, 4 ER) and was dominated in the other two (7.2 IP, 15 ER).
Now he will miss a year, and even when he returns he’ll be back at square one. Come next spring, he’ll have to work back to being mediocre before he can make the jump to elite like the Yankees hoped he would this year.
This reality is the most likely reason as to why Nova consulted a second opinion after the team doctor recommended surgery. He probably wanted to avoid the procedure at all costs and see if there was any possibility that he could return later this season.
In spite of the arduous comeback Nova will undoubtedly face, he made the correct choice by opting for surgery both for the team and for himself. Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda have both pitched like front-end starters, Hiroki Kuroda has been reliable as usual and C.C. Sabathia is starting to return to ace form. The Yankees can survive this year without Nova.
As for Nova, he’ll be out for longer than if he simply tried to rehab his elbow but he’ll come back stronger. It’s going to take an extra year of waiting, but he could still realize his potential. He could still become the quality starter the Yankees believe he can be.