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After Two Tommy John Operations, Daniel Hudson Hopes to Rejoin the D-backs' Starting Rotation

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The Diamondbacks have been especially affected by the recent rash of Tommy John surgeries.

According to what's perhaps the most complete list of Tommy John surgeries in professional baseball, compiled by Hardball Times baseball analyst Jon Roegele, there have been 27 Tommy John surgeries on pitching arms in the history of the Diamondbacks organization, which started in the 1998 season.

Almost half of these surgeries took place in the past five years.

Not surprisingly, the team has gotten worse over that time span. After winning the National League West title in 2011, the Diamondbacks posted a record of 82-82 in 2012, the year of Hudson's first Tommy John surgery.

In 2013, when Hudson got his second surgery, the Diamondbacks went 82-82 again.

Then, before the 2014 season, two prominent pieces of the D-backs' bullpen, Matt Reynolds and David Hernandez, required Tommy John surgery. The team's death blow came when lefty ace Patrick Corbin, an All-Star the previous season, also had to undergo Tommy John surgery before the season started.

As if this wasn't enough, right-handed starter Bronson Arroyo went down in June with a UCL injury that eventually required Tommy John surgery.

Corbin and Arroyo exemplify how these UCL injuries seem to come randomly. Despite what the doctors know about the causes of these injuries, they aren't perfect predictors.

Corbin, for example, didn't even play baseball for half of his high school years, engaging in other sports instead -- two factors that would seem to decrease the likelihood of a pitcher getting a UCL injury.

Then there's Arroyo, one of the softest-throwing pitchers in the game, who had gone 14 straight seasons in the big leagues without any sort of serious injury. (See "Rock 'n' Roll Pitching," May 27, 2014.)

With five pitchers missing all or part of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Diamondbacks imploded in 2014, finishing with the worst record in baseball, with 64 wins and 98 losses.

UCL problems were only the start of injuries for the 2014 squad, and the list of players who spent time on the disabled list became huge: power-hitting first baseman Paul Goldschmidt; outfielders A.J. Pollock, Mark Trumbo, Ender Inciarte, and Cody Ross; infielders Chris Owings, (now-retired) Eric Chavez, and Cliff Pennington; infielder/catcher Jordan Pacheco; and relief pitchers J.J. Putz (who moved to the D-backs' front office) and Brad Ziegler -- in addition to all the Tommy John patients.

In fact, catcher Miguel Montero (since traded to the Chicago Cubs) and second baseman Aaron Hill were the only hitters on the team to get more than 500 plate appearances. By comparison, World Series runners-up the Kansas City Royals got at least 500 plate appearances from each of the nine starters.

However, none of the non-UCL injuries require the time away from the game and the rehab work that comes as a result of Tommy John surgery.

Paul Goldschmidt surely will return as one of the game's best at his position after breaking his hand last year. For the team's Tommy John patients, it's not that easy.

A small percentage of pitchers never pitch at the level they did before the surgery and fade away from the majors. Although it's generally accepted that a pitcher can come back after a year, he won't be back to where he was for a full 18 months, Dr. Dugas says.

This leaves a lot of uncertainty for the five Diamondbacks pitchers looking to come back this year from Tommy John.

The Diamondbacks aren't alone in this situation, as every team in baseball has had to figure out how to replace a pitcher on the big-league squad while keeping the injured player on the team's payroll.

In the Diamondbacks' case, the team's decline over the past few years has elevated Josh Collmenter from a prized long-reliever to a starter, and despite not being an ace by any stretch of the imagination, he's scheduled to be the team's Opening Day starter this year.

The team presumably will have to make space in the rotation for Corbin later in the season when he returns from Tommy John surgery. Corbin, who turns 26 in July, missed the entire 2014 season, after posting a 14-8 record and 3.41 ERA during his All-Star season in 2013.

In a world without UCL injuries, the Diamondbacks would have a pretty good pitching rotation, and the same can be said about several other teams that have been hit just as hard by these injuries.

Instead, not only do teams have to deal with problems that arise with more Tommy John surgeries, Arizona now is one of a few that contend with another variable -- a pitcher's needing a second Tommy John surgery, as in the case of Daniel Hudson.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley