Pirates' Yates on elbow surgery: 'I'll be back'

Torn ligament will cost reliever close to a year on mound

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Tyler Yates, the Pirates' hard-throwing right-handed reliever, will miss this season and part of the next after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

Dr. James Andrews, the noted orthopedist, repaired a torn ulnar collateral ligament Tuesday in Birmingham , Ala. , after Yates again was shut down in his throwing program last week at the Pirates' facility in Bradenton , Fla. It will be four months before he can throw, 10-12 months before he can pitch at his peak, if all goes well.

That was the "lousy" part, as Yates saw it.

The positive?

"I finally know, at least," Yates said yesterday by phone from Bradenton . "For about eight weeks now, we've been spinning our wheels, trying to figure out what's wrong."

Yates was placed on the disabled list May 16 after having a 7.50 ERA through 15 appearances, but it was not until this week, according to Yates, that there was a clear diagnosis. That, he said, came when Dr. Andrews was skeptical of the MRI taken by his radiologist this week -- the third since Yates' injury -- that did not conclusively show ligament damage.

"Dr. Andrews was sure something was wrong, and he felt surgery was the best way to go after it," Yates said.

Precise pitching injuries commonly are uncovered only through surgery.

What remained unclear is when, exactly, the ligament was hurt. The two previous MRIs taken of Yates' elbow showed no significant ligament damage, and he still was throwing at his standard 95-96 mph right up until going on the disabled list. Just a few days ago, Yates predicted he would return to the Pirates within two or three weeks.

"We'll probably never know when this happened to the ligament," Yates said. "I think it happened in Bradenton when I pitched a simulated inning this month, but there have been so many setbacks."

Yates, who will turn 32 next month, sounded confident of making a full recovery, in large part because he had the same ligament repaired in 2002, as well as major shoulder surgery in 2005.

"My goal is to be ready to pitch right after next spring training, by mid-May at the latest. I'll be back. I know that."

His future employer is another matter. Yates will make $1.3 million this year, and the Pirates could retain his rights by offering him arbitration but almost surely will not, given the injury. The parties could work out an agreement independent of arbitration, or Yates could declare for free agency once the Pirates non-tender him.

The Pirates have more right-handed relief options than when Yates went on the disabled list: Evan Meek and Jesse Chavez, each also having a power arm, have done well. So did Steven Jackson before his recent demotion to Class AAA Indianapolis, a move made solely to get Rule 5 draft pick Donnie Veal back on the roster.

Yates remains, for now, on the 15-day disabled list, though he could be moved to the 60-day to open a spot on the full 40-man roster if needed.

Dejan Kovacevic can be reached at dkovacevic@post-gazette.com .


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