Detroit Tigers’ Tarik Skubal has flexor tendon surgery, likely out till at least mid-2023

Detroit Free Press

CLEVELAND — The Detroit Tigers already knew left-hander Tarik Skubal would not pitch for the remainder of the 2022 season, but Wednesday’s events off the field delivered another massive blow to the organization’s rebuild.

Skubal underwent flexor tendon surgery Wednesday morning. The timetable for his return is unclear, according to the club, but the typical recovery time is nine months, placing his potential return at some point in the 2023 season.

The 25-year-old, who felt pain in his left elbow upon resuming his throwing program, visited specialist Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles on Monday. ElAttrache is the head team physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Rams.

“It was exploratory in nature,” manager A.J. Hinch said. “Dr. ElAttrache went in and saw exactly what was ailing Tarik. It was successful, and that’s the extent of the update that I know. He didn’t have that upon exam, so to speak, and that’s why we didn’t really pinpoint exactly what it was. We have resolution now.”

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Skubal finished 2022 with a 3.52 ERA, 32 walks and 117 strikeouts over 117⅔ innings in 21 starts. He has pitched 60 games (57 starts) — and 299 innings — across his three-year MLB career, posting a 4.15 ERA.

“We’re obviously positive about it because we got resolution and got some definitive answers by one of the most trusted and well-respected doctors in the world,” Hinch said. “It’s hard to be optimistic, as a word, when you have one of your best players go under a surgical procedure. The positive side of it is, we have resolution and there’s no longer lingering curiosities as to what was causing the issue.

“I’m not a doctor. I’m a manager. But I liked that there wasn’t a singular event and all of a sudden it was this massive tear of some sort. I don’t know what kind of repair it was. I can’t begin to describe it. But when a respected doctors office says ‘successful surgery’ and ‘expected to make a perfect recovery,’ that’s good.”

Skubal appeared in his final game Aug. 1 against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. He removed himself from the outing after five innings and 77 pitches due to left arm fatigue. In the fifth inning, Skubal experienced a noticeable decrease in velocity.

Still, he felt confident he would make his next scheduled start.

Instead, the Tigers placed Skubal on the 15-day injured list Aug. 3, retroactive to Aug. 2. He was expected to return to the starting rotation in September with hopes of a strong finish. The Tigers then transferred him to the 60-day injured list Aug. 12, officially ending his 2022 season.

“I talked to Tarik,” Hinch said. “I think he might have still been under anesthesia, so it was a unique conversation. He’s doing great.”

Skubal underwent Tommy John surgery in 2016 at Seattle University. He missed the entire 2017 season, returned for the 2018 campaign and was selected by the Tigers in the ninth round of the 2018 draft (with the No. 255 overall pick).

His most recent surgery appears similar to that of a former left-handed teammate, Matthew Boyd.

“That creates a lot of questions on timeline,” Hinch said. “I have no idea. I don’t know if it’s exactly the same. I’d rather not guess on how similar or dissimilar it was to previous situations.”

Boyd underwent flexor tendon surgery in late September, ending his 2021 season. At the time, he expected to return by June 2022. The Tigers non-tendered him in the offseason, and he signed with the San Francisco Giants. (The Giants traded him to his hometown Seattle Mariners at the trade deadline earlier this month.)

Boyd has yet to return to the majors, but he is on a rehab assignment in the Mariners’ organization.

His recovery from September’s surgery suffered a setback in early June when he felt discomfort in his elbow after throwing live batting practice to Giants hitters. Boyd struck out two with Triple-A Tacoma in a scoreless inning Monday and appears on track for a return in September, likely in a relief role.

The Tigers’ future also took a hit in June 2022, when right-hander Casey Mize — the 2018 No. 1 overall pick — underwent Tommy John surgery. His ulnar collateral ligament was not torn, but the ligament was stretched, lost its elasticity and required a surgical repair.

“We got to find a boss first before we worry about where we’re going to move as an organization,” Hinch said, referring to the organization’s search for a general manager after firing Al Avila on Aug. 10. “Losing Tarik and Casey for any time hurts our team and hurts our winning. There’s a lot that has to happen before we start to assess where everybody fits in. They can be on different timelines, different surgeries, different recoveries, the ups and downs with all of that. They’re going to be a huge part of the Tigers when they’re healthy, and I’ll make sure both those guys know it.”

The Tigers have used 16 starting pitchers this season due to injuries. They’ll be getting one back this weekend: Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez will start Sunday, against the Los Angeles Angels, for the first time since May 18.

Contact Evan Petzold at epetzold@freepress.com or follow him on Twitter @EvanPetzoldRead more on the Detroit Tigers and sign up for our Tigers newsletter.

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