Ross, Zimmermann both encouraged as they fight back from arm injuries
Detroit – It was the ultimate bad news-good news situation for injured Tigers starter Tyson Ross.
Last week he sought two separate opinions from specialists on the inflamed nerve in his right elbow. First with St. Louis-based Dr. Robert Thompson, who performed Thoracic Outlet surgery on Ross in 2016.
Then he went to Dallas to be seen by another vascular specialist, Dr. Gregory Pearl.
Both told him the same thing: The sensation he’s feeling in his elbow and fingers is not related to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS). That was the good news.
“Yeah, now it’s just a matter of letting the nerve calm down, continuing treatment and getting back to a throwing program,” Ross said before the game Sunday.
The bad news?
The inflammation that has shut Ross down is in the ulnar nerve. Something is pinching that nerve, causing the pain and swelling. It was the same issue Michael Fulmer dealt with late in the 2017 season that lead to ulnar transposition surgery.
So, as Ross continues on a battery of anti-inflammatory medication and treatment, there’s no telling whether the inflammation will return once he starts throwing again.
Still, that it is not related to the TOS was a great relief to Ross.
“What I was feeling out there was aligned to what they say TOS is,” he said. “It wasn’t the symptoms I’d felt the first time around, but I’ve heard all the terms and the indications of TOS and it was to a tee what I was experiencing.
“I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t good.”
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is still a relative mystery as it relates to baseball players. Ross said there are only 10 players who’ve come back from the surgery. Former Tiger Jeremy Bonderman had the surgery in 2008 and was never the same pitcher.
Others who have had it include Michael Foltynewicz, Chris Young, Matt Harvey, Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Clayton Richard.
“There’s only two surgeons that do the surgery in baseball,” Ross said. “You compare that to Tommy John surgery (ulnar ligament replacement) and how wide-spread it is. You look around this clubhouse and probably half the pitchers have had TJ.
“With TOS, it’s a smaller sample size. So there is a lot less knowledge of it and of the rehab and treatment of it.”
For now, all Ross can do is cardio and light weight-room work. He was instructed on Friday not to pick up a ball for seven to 10 days. Still, he feels like he dodged a bullet.
“Luckily this isn’t TOS right now,” he said. “Nerve issues are different. Tendons and ligaments are clear-cut and have more definite timelines. With a nerve, all you can do is let it calm down. They are slower to heal.”
The Tigers' other injured veteran starting pitcher may have dodged a bullet, too, though it’s still too early to call it.
Jordan Zimmermann is working through a sprain of his ulnar collateral ligament, and the elbow has been responding positively to treatment.
“I’m feeling good, no issues,” Zimmermann said. “Now it’s just getting back to (throwing from) 120 feet and once I’m there, I can get off the mound. Everything is going as planned.”
Zimmermann threw on flat ground from 90 feet on Friday and Saturday. The trainers wanted him to take Sunday off, but Zimmermann wanted to keep the arm warm. So he fielded ground balls and took throws at first base before the game, lightly tossing the balls back to the plate.
“I don’t feel anything, so (the sprain) seems to be out of there,” he said. “Now it’s about building back up and getting back out there.”
That’s not to say he will be back any time soon.
“No, I just don’t want to go too quick, too fast and have something else happen,” he said. “I’m trying to go slow and take my time. But at the same time, I want to go as fast as I can. Kind of a fine line to walk.”
Zimmermann had Tommy John surgery in 2009 and when he felt the elbow pain during his start in Boston last month, he feared the worst.
“The same feeling I had in Boston, the same sensation I had throwing the ball was the same thing I felt when I had Tommy John,” Zimmermann said. “My biggest concern was I’d be going back for my second TJ surgery.
“But everything checked out good and the ligament is strong as can be. It’s a tear in the muscle and we can fix that.”
Candelario: ‘So far, so good’
Jeimer Candelario is showing progress since his demotion to Triple-A Toledo.
The third baseman hit a three-run home run Sunday as the host Mud Hens topped Yankees affiliate Scranton/Wilkes-Barre 4-3 in a rain-shortened game.
In four games since the Tigers sent him down last week, Candelario is 4-for-13 with two walks and a strikeout.
“So far, so good,” Mud Hens manager Doug Mientkiewicz said. “I always thought you have a responsibility when you are the guy who is sent down to do it right, so the guys here that are here see it’s different.
“There are some things we’d like to clean up a little bit defensively and offensively, but the fact that he’s here and he’s engaged and he wants to play; that’s a good sign.”
Candelario hit .192 in 38 games with Detroit with two home runs in 146 at-bats. He hit 19 home runs in Detroit last season.
Around the horn
Shortstop Jordy Mercer, on the injured list for a second time with a right quad strain, is still not ready to start a rehab assignment. He took ground balls and batting practice before the game, but he’s still feeling discomfort when he runs straight ahead.
...Right-handed pitcher Franklin Perez, the No. 3-ranked prospect in the Tigers organization according to MLB.com, is back on the injured list at High-A Lakeland. He has a recurrence of tendinitis in his right shoulder. He's only pitched four innings this season.
… Utility man Niko Goodrum, who missed the last two games with the flu, was back in the lineup Sunday.
Matt Schoch contributed to this report.