The news on Royals closer Joakim Soria couldn’t be much worse. An examination Monday revealed “definite damage” in the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and seems likely to require surgery.
General manager Dayton Moore acknowledged Soria might require reconstructive elbow surgery, commonly known as Tommy John surgery. Soria underwent that procedure in 2003 to replace the same ligament.
The need for another Tommy John procedure will likely be determined today when Soria undergoes a follow-up examination by Dr. Lewis Yocum, an elbow specialist, in Los Angeles.
“We’ll see what that reveals,” Moore said, “but maybe so. It’s unfortunate. Joakim is such a professional person, and he’s obviously hurting right now. Let’s hope for the best. If it needs reconstruction, let’s hope for a good outcome.”
Soria’s injury is the second major blow this spring to one of the Royals’ key players. Catcher Salvy Perez is expected to miss 12-14 weeks after undergoing surgery last Friday to repair torn cartilage in his left knee.
An injury to Soria, even last season, would have been a devastating blow, but the Royals believe they now have two viable alternatives to step in as their closer: Greg Holland and free-agent acquisition Jonathan Broxton.
Manager Ned Yost termed it “too early” to designate one as Soria’s replacement.
“They both can handle it,” Yost said. “We’ll think through it. It wasn’t a scenario I could foresee coming. So it’s going to take some time to think through it. We might use them both in that spot.”
Holland, 26, established himself last season as a potential closer by compiling a 1.80 ERA in 46 games. Broxton, 27, was an All-Star for the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010 but missed most of last season because of a sore elbow that required surgery in September.
“They’ve both looked great this spring,” Yost said. “We’ll give it time to play out. We could very well use both of them in that situation. I’ve got the confidence to use both of them.”
Soria, 27, was an All-Star in 2008 and 2010 but slumped a year ago to 5-5 with a 4.03 ERA in 60 appearances. He is making $6 million this season, and the Royals hold options for the next two seasons at $8 million and $8.75 million.
Those options include $750,000 buy-out clauses.
“It’s a definite blow,” Moore said. “We put our pitching staff together in the expectation that Joakim Soria would be our closer and pitch like his did prior to last year.”
Soria underwent a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam Monday morning after exiting Sunday’s game against Cleveland because of increasing elbow pain in the last two of his 16 pitches. He was initially optimistic.
“I don’t feel it’s that bad,” he said, “because before the Tommy John surgery, all of my strength went away. This time, it hasn’t. So I don’t feel like it’s that.”
Even so, Soria raised growing concerns throughout the spring by allowing seven runs and 10 hits in 3 1/3 innings over three Cactus League appearances. He also surrendered three runs and six hits over two innings in a “B” game against Texas.