Nathan to undergo Tommy John surgery
Twins closer felt stiffness in elbow while playing catch
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Over the past two weeks, Twins closer Joe Nathan held on to the slim hope that he might be able to pitch with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.But on Sunday morning when he played catch for the first time since he was diagnosed with the tear, Nathan felt stiffness in his elbow, and afterward he said that he will undergo Tommy John ligament replacement surgery as soon as possible. "It didn't go like we hoped," Nathan said. "We knew it was a long shot, but what this did do is clear my head. There was definitely no grey area. Definitely was on the black side, where it didn't go as well as we like, and we know now we're going to have to go in and get some surgery done, get this thing fixed up." Nathan said he will have the surgery done either this week or next, although he has not yet decided who will perform it or where he'll have it done. The recovery time for the surgery is usually around 12 months, and Nathan said that he's "very confident" that he will be ready to go for Opening Day in 2011. "Any time you are going to be out for a season -- especially the timing of this with this ballclub, the new stadium, the excitement -- it's definitely tough," Nathan said. "But right now, I have to take care of myself and get myself ready for next year." Nathan, 35, was diagnosed with what the Twins called a "significant" tear in his UCL on March 9, a couple days after he left a spring exhibition game against the Red Sox with stiffness in the elbow. When he first learned of the injury, Nathan said he would take two weeks to let the swelling subside and strengthen the muscles around his elbow to see if there was any chance he could try to pitch with the injury. On Sunday morning, Nathan and pitching coach Rick Anderson played catch for a few minutes on a side field at the Lee County Sports Complex. Nathan said he felt good at the beginning of the session, but as he extended out to 60-70 feet, he felt some stiffness in the same spot as when he first injured the elbow.
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"As we kept throwing, it became clear that it was getting harder and harder to play catch," Nathan said. "It became clear that it didn't feel great. This was going to be an easy answer for me to know I wouldn't be able to pitch without getting this thing taken care of."Although the news of surgery is not what Nathan had hoped for, he said there had been plenty of time for him to come to terms with the idea over these past two weeks. Sunday morning's game of catch has given him a bit of closure in the fact that he now knows what he needs to do. "The worst-case scenario would be if there was a grey area and I wasn't sure where I was at," Nathan said. "It would be if I tried to battle through this for some time and then it ended up not going well. Get it done and [have] plenty of time to be back. "I don't fear whether I [can] come back next year. The biggest disappointment is the obvious -- just missing this year." Nathan was asked if he planned to rehab from the surgery in Minnesota. He said that would be his preference, but only if he and the team determine that it will be the best spot for his recovery. "I think it will help me get through this thing and at least be a part of the team a little bit," he said. "I'm very comfortable in Minnesota. We have a house there, and my family would like it. Obviously, I would like to help out whoever is thrown into that [vacant closer's] role." With Nathan now officially out for the 2010 season, the Twins have two weeks before Opening Day on April 5 to either trade for a closer or choose one from their current pitching staff. Among the pitchers who have been considered to be in-house options are Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier, Francisco Liriano, Jose Mijares and Jesse Crain. "It's a tough loss because Nathan is your closer, and normally your bullpen is as good as that guy at the end," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "Now, we have to find somebody to step in there and do a job. Not replace him, but do a good job for us and get some outs. Whether it's one guy or two guys, we'll find out. We're going to decide here as we go along. ... We've gone through injuries before and you have to find people to step up. That's what we're going to try to do here."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.