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Alex Faedo becomes latest Tigers' prospect to face Tommy John surgery

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

A year that will live in infamy for so many, 2020, has turned darker for a top Tigers pitching prospect.

Alex Faedo now must endure the year-plus recovery that follows Tommy John ligament reconstruction. A first-round draft pick by the Tigers in 2017, Faedo, 25, will have surgery this month on his right (throwing) elbow and is certain to miss all of the 2021 season.

Tigers pitcher Alex Faedo will need Tommy John surgery, the organization announced on Saturday.

Faedo already had dealt with a personal bout of COVID-19, the scourge that has ravaged a world-at-large, as well as a pandemic that canceled the 2020 minor-league baseball season. His 2020 dress-rehearsal, which likely was to involve work at Triple-A Toledo, was set to build endurance and polish his repertoire for a long-expected debut at Comerica Park.

But he contracted COVID at some point early in summer as Faedo got ready to join the Tigers’ 60-man taxi squad in Detroit. He spent 20 days in a hotel and lost 16 pounds.

Later in August, a man who was born, raised, and who still lives in the Tampa, Florida, region, was set to throw at the Tigers’ secondary site, Fifth Third Park in Toledo.

There, he ran into what was believed to be a forearm strain. He soon was shelved but rebounded. He was back throwing in September and was headed for Tigers instructional camp.

“My arm feels great,” Faedo said during a Sept. 25 phone conversation with The Detroit News, explaining that a couple of recent bullpen sessions had gone fine.

Doctors had determined there was nothing structurally wrong with Faedo’s arm, apart, perhaps, from fatigue and strains that had been part of his post-COVID comeback.

“It was more that my body wasn’t ready to hang onto that load,” Faedo explained in September. “There was a lot of inflammation and fatigue, pretty much because I’d been throwing way less than I’m used to. There was nothing structural. My arm wasn’t ready to bounce back after losing all that weight.”

Faedo, though, never got going, fully, during instructional camp. And when problems persisted even into this month, more exams followed, and finally came the diagnosis that he had right-elbow ligament fraying that would necessitate surgery and shelve him for 2021.

Faedo last week was listed as the No. 6 talent on The Detroit News Tigers Top 50 Prospects grouping. He is 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, and looked before 2020’s star-crossed year to be on target for a rotation spot in Detroit.

He had been moving along on a standard timetable for a first-rounder whose college experience, at the University of Florida, had placed him closer to big-league work than is typical for most draft picks.

He pitched in 2019 at Double-A Erie, starting 22 games, working 115⅓ innings, with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. With a slider as his crown-jewel pitch, Faedo allowed 104 hits, while striking out 134 and walking only 25. His strikeout and walks ratios per nine innings: 10.5 whiffs against 2.0 walks, the kind of numbers that delight front offices and reinforce reasons why Faedo was taken 18th overall in 2017.

Faedo, though, had also been sidelined late in 2019. Then, it was back spasms rather than anything arm-related that shelved him 15 months ago.

He otherwise had all but won a September plane-ticket to Detroit. His fastball, which was in the lower 90s in 2018, a year after Faedo was drafted, had ticked upward to as high as 96. And then there was the slider that so many hitters found to be more an ordeal than an experience.

Faedo is the third Tigers pitcher in 2020 to face Tommy John surgery. Joey Wentz, a left-handed starter who had looked early this year as if he might make it to Detroit in 2020, had his elbow reconstructed in March. 

Wilkel Hernandez, a right-handed starter and Top 20 prospect, had surgery in October. He, too, will not pitch in a regular-season game until 2022.  

Lynn Henning is a freelance writer and former Detroit News sports reporter.