Royals closer Joakim Soria came to the conclusion Friday morning that he had no alternative but to undergo another Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.
Soria, 27, reached the decision after consulting three doctors – specialists Lewis Yocum in Los Angeles, James Andrews in Birmingham, Ala., and the Royals’ own medical staff headed by Vincent Key.
Plans call for Yocum to perform the surgery April 3 in Los Angeles. The typical recovery period ranges from 10-14 months.
Soria underwent a previous Tommy John surgery, which is a complete reconstruction that replaces the ligament, in 2003 while a member of the Dodgers’ organization. He did not pitch in 2003 and made only four appearances in 2004.
The latest problem surfaced last Sunday when Soria left the mound due to elbow pain during a game against Cleveland at Surprise Stadium.
A subsequent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) exam revealed what club officials termed “definite damage” to the ligament. Soria sought further opinions from Yocum and Andrews before agreeing to undergo the procedure.
Club officials said the tear is where the ligament joins the bone, which limits the effectiveness of non-surgical rehabilitation efforts.
The Royals now face some hard salary decisions.
Soria is making a guaranteed $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.
The Royals acquired Soria from San Diego on Dec. 7, 2006 through the Rule 5 Draft. He opened the following season as a setup reliever but became the club’s full-time closer following a July 31, 2007 trade that sent Octavio Dotel to Atlanta.
Soria quickly established himself as one of the game’s premier closers and was picked as an All-Star in 2008 and 2010. He converted 150 of 167 save opportunities after replacing Dotel.
That 89.8-percent success rate ranks third among all closers with at least 100 opportunities in that span. Mariano Rivera leads at 92.1 percent, followed by José Valverde at 90.4 percent.
“We’re going to put him in there in the back end of the game,” manager Ned Yost said prior to the game. “I’m going to try to get him in the right field, or the outfield, three times this spring. I just want him to have some experience out there.
“When we get into interleague (games), it might be we want both Billy (Butler) and Hos in the game for their bats. I don’t want to throw him out there cold turkey (in the regular season).”
The Royals generally relegated Butler, their regular designated hitter, to the bench last season in interleague road games. By shifting Hosmer to right field, they can put Butler at first base and keep their three-four hitters in the lineup.
Yost said Hosmer has taken some fly balls in the outfield this spring at the end of recent pre-game workouts. Hosmer has never played the outfield in the big leagues.
“If we get to a situation where we want to do that,” Yost said. “I want him to have had some outfield time. Spring training is the best time to do that.
“We’re going to play Gordie (left fielder Alex Gordon) some at first, too, just for those kinds of situations. We’re trying to make sure that we’re covered. We’re trying to look down the road and see all of the scenarios that could happen.”