6:36pm: Pittsburgh director of sports medicine Todd Tomczyk indicated Velasquez was likely to miss 11-12 months, writes Justice delos Santos of MLB.com. He won’t been throwing until around November. Obviously, that’ll cut into the righty’s availability for the first half of the 2024 campaign.
Velasquez, 31, was signed by the Pirates this winter to a one-year, $3.15MM deal. The club was likely hoping that he could provide a stable source of veteran innings, alongside fellow offseason signee Rich Hill, as they also gave auditions to younger pitchers like Mitch Keller, Roansy Contreras, Johan Oviedo and Luis Ortiz.
The plan worked fairly well for a while, as Velasquez got out to a strong start. He made eight starts for the Bucs with a 3.86 ERA, striking out 22.8% of batters faced against an 8.6% walk rate. He was placed on the injured list in early May due to elbow inflammation and came back later that month. However, he departed his return start after just two innings due to renewed discomfort in that elbow.
It was reported last week that Velasquez would eventually be moved to the 60-day injured list, which seemed to point to a significant absence. That has now come to fruition with today’s news that he required some sort of serious surgery. It’s not clear exactly what sort of surgery took place, but it will apparently end his 2023 and perhaps impact his 2024 as well if it were something as serious as Tommy John surgery, though further details will undoubtedly come out in time.
It’s surely a frustrating development for both the player and the team. Velasquez has been fairly inconsistent in his career, with his ERA oscillating between a low of 4.12 in 2016 and a high of 6.30 in 2021. Though it was a fairly small sample, his 2023 was on pace to potentially be his strongest yet, though it now appears to be done. He will be a free agent this winter, though the level of interest he receives will be affected by the severity of the surgery and his health going forward.
For the Bucs, this will be a blow to their rotation depth as they are hovering in the playoff race for the first time in years after a lengthy rebuild. They are currently 32-29 and holding the last Wild Card spot in the National League. If they manage to stay afloat in that race, the diminished depth will present them with a challenge. Velasquez also would have been a logical trade candidate if they fell back in the race given his impending free agency, though that won’t even be a call the front office has to make anymore.