Diamondbacks starter Taijuan Walker has been diagnosed with a “UCL injury,” skipper Torey Lovullo told reporters including MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert (Twitter links). The severity of the issue — including whether there’s a tear to the ligament — is not yet known.
For the time being, all that’s really known is that Walker will head out for a second opinion before deciding on a course of treatment. The options on the table at the moment are not clear, but it seems reasonable to hope there is still a possibility he’ll avoid the worst-case outcome.
In certain situations, damage to the ulnar collateral ligament requires Tommy John surgery, which comes with a rehabilitation protocol of a year or more. In some cases, though, UCL problems can be approached with rehab, stem cell and/or platelet-rich plasma treatment, and/or less-invasive surgical approaches.
The news comes as a major shock to a D-Backs club that has paced the NL West in the early going. Even if Walker is able to avoid surgery, he’ll quite likely require a substantial DL stint before he’s able to return to the hill.
Any missed time will be problematic, to say the least, though the Arizona organization does have some options to fill in. Former top prospect Braden Shipley, recent waiver claimee Troy Scribner, and fellow righty Matt Koch are the top possibilities on the 40-man roster. Kris Medlen, Jake Buchanan, and Tyler Pill represent the slate of pitchers with MLB experience that are also in the organization (though the latter two have been knocked around in their first outings at Triple-A).
It’s even more concerning news from Walker’s perspective. The long-hyped 25-year-old finally turned in a full and productive season in 2017, when he pitched to a 3.49 ERA with 8.4 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 along with a 48.9% groundball rate over 157 1/3 innings. He had seemed in typical form to open the current season, though he was getting less swings and misses than usual (in a limited, 13-inning sample).
Walker is earning $4.825MM this year, his second season of arbitration eligibility after qualifying as a Super Two player in 2017. The Diamondbacks control him for two additional seasons beyond the present one.