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May 18, 2014

MLB wonders why elbows keep tearing

NORMAN — All of baseball is focused on a most precious 2 1/8 inches — the average length of the ulnar collateral ligament.

This year, more than a dozen major league pitchers already have undergone Tommy John surgery — which involves replacing the elbow ligament with a tendon harvested from elsewhere (often the non-pitching elbow or forearm) in the patient’s body. All-Stars Patrick Corbin, Josh Johnson and Matt Moore have had the surgery, and NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez was scheduled to have his operation Friday.

“It’s a problem. There’s no question about it,” baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said. “I’m almost afraid to pick up the paper every day because there’s some bad news.”

The surgery forces a player to miss at least a full season, but many power pitchers — including Chris Carpenter (2007), Stephen Strasburg (2010) and Adam Wainwright (2011) — threw as hard with their repaired elbows as they did before. Matt Harvey is still recovering from surgery last year.

The league hopes it can find ways to protect these million dollar elbows before surgery is required.

Dr. James Andrews, one of the world’s top orthopedic physicians, will be meeting with a research committee Monday at Major League Baseball’s headquarters.

“We’re going to put together a research project to help figure this out. We don’t know quite what to say at this point,” he said. “But, yeah, it’s got everybody’s attention.”

A 2013 survey showed 25 percent of big league pitchers and 15 percent of minor leaguer pitchers had undergone the procedure.

“This does not include the guys who didn’t make it back. These are the success stories,” said Glenn Fleisig of the American Sports Medicine Institute, who conducted the survey with Stan Conte of the Dodgers.

With the advent of high-tech scans such as MRIs, doctors usually can pinpoint exactly what’s wrong. And with pro pitchers under the watch of radar guns whenever they throw, the slightest drop in velocity triggers scrutiny.

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