Rangers righty Chi Chi Gonzalez has been diagnosed with a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News was among those to report. For the time being, he’ll receive a platelet-rich plasma injection and stop throwing for at least six weeks.
At this point, the course of treatment does not include any plans for Tommy John surgery or another procedure to address the injury. Given the promise some other pitchers have shown in bids to avoid such an invasive approach, with the lengthy attendant rehab timeline, perhaps Gonzalez too can return to action without going under the knife.
Indeed, just that hope explains the organization’s decision to pursue treatment at this stage. Club doctor Keith Meister “felt that with the area where the injury is, he has historically had a pretty good success rate for the conservative route of the [PRP] injection,” says assistant GM Josh Boyd. After the six-week layoff, the club will order up another examination to check the progress and determine the next steps.
Gonzalez, 25, worked to a 3.90 ERA in his first 67 MLB frames upon his 2015 call-up. But he managed only thirty strikeouts to go with 32 walks in that span. Though he was able to generate a strong 48.6% groundball rate and limit opposing hitters to a sparse tally of 49 base hits, he was aided by an unsustainable .206 BABIP.
The results didn’t carry over into 2016. Gonzalez spent most of the year at Triple-A, where he compiled a 4.70 ERA in 138 frames with 5.9 K/9 to go with 2.9 BB/9. He did move into the MLB rotation briefly, but was shelled for ten earned runs on 21 hits — with seven punchouts against nine free passes — in his 10 1/3 innings.
A former top-100 prospect and first-round selection, Gonzalez has long been expected to provided Texas with useful major league innings. But his pronounced struggles over the past two seasons were met with further difficulties this spring, and the injury clouds his future yet more.
In the near term, the loss of Gonzalez for at least a significant chunk of the upcoming season depletes the Rangers’ rotation depth. The organization has seen some promising signs from Andrew Cashner, at least, but at present appears likely to utilize A.J. Griffin and Dillon Gee to open the year while awaiting the return of Cashner and Tyson Ross. There are some other options on hand: Nick Martinez, Eddie Gamboa, Tyler Wagner, and Yohander Mendez all pitched in the majors last year and occupy 40-man spots. Still, the appeal of bringing back the still-unsigned Colby Lewis has only increased since camp opened, though there’s still no apparent movement on that front.