Oct 13: In a separate piece, Petzold writes that both Manning and the Tigers are optimistic that surgery will not be necessary to address the righty’s forearm issue.
Oct 12: One of the stories of the Tigers dismal 2022 season was the number of injuries they were forced to endure on the pitching staff. Detroit lost all five members of its season-opening rotation at some point along the way, including a pair of arm surgeries for arguably their top two young arms.
Casey Mize underwent Tommy John surgery in June, the culmination of a few months battling elbow troubles. Two months later, Tarik Skubal had to go under the knife himself. His was a flexor tendon repair in his forearm, a disheartening end to what had been shaping up as a breakout campaign. The Tigers didn’t provide more details about a potential recovery timeline, only announcing that he’d miss the remainder of the 2022 season.
It still isn’t clear when Skubal can expect to a return to a big league mound, but he recently updated Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free-Press on his status. The southpaw tells Petzold he’s currently building arm strength in physical therapy and has a follow-up meeting with his surgeon, Dr. Neal ElAttrache, in December. Skubal indicated he hopes he’ll be able to begin a throwing program by January if all goes well. While he declined to specify any sort of timeline for game action, he confirmed he’s likely to pitch at some point during the 2023 season.
It seems questionable whether he’ll be ready for Opening Day, however. That’s hardly a surprise, as flexor repairs are a notable procedure in their own right. Former Tiger southpaw Matthew Boyd underwent a flexor repair last September; he didn’t return from the injured list until 11 months later. Danny Duffy had the procedure in October 2021 and has missed the entire 2022 season after suffering a setback in August. That’s not to say Skubal is certain to face the same recovery timetable, but it’s illustrative of the fact that rehabbing from these procedures is no simple matter.
Nevertheless, the 25-year-old Skubal took a generally optimistic attitude towards the flexor repair, calling it “the best-case scenario in terms of all the surgery outcomes.” He tells Petzold he went into the operation not knowing whether he’d need a full Tummy John surgery that’d surely have kept him out for all of 2023. Fortunately, his UCL was intact and didn’t require repair.
Mize and Skubal are two-thirds of what Detroit envisioned being an excellent homegrown rotation. Both are now recovering from major surgeries, and Mize will miss most or all of next year. The third, Matt Manning, was scratched from his final start of the season with what the club called a forearm strain. Manager A.J. Hinch downplayed the issue at the time, saying the team shut him down out of an abundance of caution. However, Petzold now reports that Manning is soon to head for a second opinion with Dr. Keith Meister.
To be clear, there’s no indication that Manning is facing surgery at this point. Doctors may just be keeping a close eye on the highly-touted 24-year-old. Still, Petzold writes it’s possible Manning won’t be healthy for Opening Day (although that by no means appears certain yet). Manning also missed a good chunk of the season with shoulder issues, but he took the ball every fifth day for the season’s final two months before the forearm issue arose.
Ostensible injury question marks for all three of Mize, Skubal and Manning present a major challenge for first-year president of baseball operations Scott Harris. Eduardo Rodríguez is a lock for the season-opening starting five. Skubal and Manning would be in the rotation if healthy. Detroit shuttled through a number of arms at the back end this year, but none look to have done enough to force their way into the rotation. Joey Wentz, Beau Brieske and Alex Faedo have each been prospects of note in the past, but none missed many bats at the big league level. Rony García had serviceable strikeout and walk numbers but a 5.11 ERA as a starter, and he ended the season on the IL with a shoulder problem. Spencer Turnbull will be returning after a season lost to Tommy John surgery.
Even in what’s likely to be a non-competitive 2023 campaign, Harris and his front office group will have to bring in some starting pitchers from outside the organization. There’s already room for one or two veterans to soak up innings, and it seems likely the Tigers will leverage their high offseason waiver priority to take a flier on some depth arms of interest. The need to add rotation options would only become more acute if Skubal and/or Manning aren’t able to open the season in Hinch’s rotation.