Soria to take time to decide on elbow surgery
Tommy John procedure would be second for Royals closer
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Closer Joakim Soria will take a couple of days off to consider what to do about his ailing right elbow, Royals officials said on Wednesday.
Soria has returned from a visit with Dr. Lewis Yocum, an elbow specialist in Los Angeles, after tests showed damage to the ulnar collateral ligament. That's a problem often resolved by Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, which Soria already has undergone once in his career.
"He's got definite ligament damage and both doctors agree," manager Ned Yost said. "They gave him some options and I'm not sure what they are."
The doctors are Yocum and Dr. Vincent Key, the Royals' head team physician. Soria will be pondering their input and talking with his family at his Arizona home as he makes his decision.
Soria was taken out of Sunday's game with elbow discomfort after having disappointing outings throughout Spring Training. Regardless of what he decides, the right-hander is expected to be out for an extended period. Tommy John surgery would knock him out for the season, as it did in 2003.
His probable replacements as closer include Greg Holland and Jonathan Broxton, and probably to a lesser extent, Aaron Crow. Yost left open the possibility of some sort of "closer by committee" approach as well.
Yost plans to leave camp on April 2 with seven relievers and five starters.
"We've still got to figure out what the bullpen's going to be," he said.
The loss of Soria, combined with the loss of catcher Salvador Perez for half the season because of knee surgery, hit the Royals like a double haymaker.
"That's exactly what you don't want to have happen -- your starting catcher and your All-Star closer in almost the same week," pitcher Luke Hochevar said. "After Soria was taken out of the game, I thought the best thing we could do is nobody show up for the next week, just lock ourselves in our houses."
A little gallows humor but there was no doubt how deeply Hochevar felt the loss of the closer.
"In the clubhouse, Soria's such a good leader. And down in the bullpen, especially since we have such a young bullpen, Soria's so good with those guys, showing them how to prepare and how to get ready for a game. He is Mr. Professional to a T," Hochevar said. "You lose that type of leadership and that type of personality in the clubhouse as well and that's definitely not what you're looking for. Somebody that wants to win that bad -- that's definitely a tough break in the clubhouse as well."
Soria had problems at times last year, at one point in late May removing himself temporarily as closer and then missing the last 2 1/2 weeks of the season with a hamstring strain. He finished with his poorest season in a brilliant career.
"Even last year when he sat out a couple of times and then coming into camp, he was never just the old Jack. You could tell something was there," Hochevar said.
"But that's just the kind of guy that Jack is -- he's going to compete [regardless of] a little stiffness. Not that he's going to do something and put his arm on the line for it, but he's never made an excuse and just kept pitching and battling. Then he just decided to go [to the doctors]. ... Just to lose a guy not only of that talent but of that character and that makeup definitely puts a dent in the armor, no doubt."
Holland became a potential closer with his tight pitching last season, primarily in setup situations for Soria.
"You hope the best for him, he's a class act," Holland said. "If he can't go then that's going to be a big blow, not to just our bullpen but to our team. He's a leader in the clubhouse and on the field."
Broxton was signed as a free agent to operate in a setup role but also with just this sort of emergency in mind. Like Soria, he was twice an All-Star and had a total 58 saves in 2009-10 for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
"Broxton is an All-Star, too," Holland said. "He was one of the best closers in the game until he got hurt, but he's feeling good and throwing the ball well. So if it ends up being me or we share the role or whatever, it really doesn't matter to me. It's just going out there and trying to get outs, regardless of what the inning is."
Meantime, the Royals will wait to see what Soria decides to do.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.