Updated: August 1st, 2012 11:54am
With elbow 'not responding,' surgery could be next for Alex Wimmers

With elbow 'not responding,' surgery could be next for Alex Wimmers

by Phil Mackey
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MINNEAPOLIS -- As the Minnesota Twins continue their search for quality starting pitching over the next several months, it's easy to think about what the 2013 staff could look like if elbow injuries hadn't sidelined former first-round draft picks Alex Wimmers and Kyle Gibson.

Gibson, nearly one year removed from Tommy John surgery, is close to being reassigned somewhere on the minor league ladder. He struck out seven in three scoreless, hitless innings for the Twins' Gulf Coast League team on Tuesday. Gibson will turn 25 years old in October and has yet to make his major-league debut.

But Wimmers, who turns 24 in October, might be headed down the same path Gibson did last year. Wimmers was shut down earlier this year with a partially-torn UCL, and his return in a GCL game last week did not go well.

Wimmers will travel to Minnesota in the coming days to have his elbow re-evaluated yet again.

"He wouldn't be coming up here if it was any good," general manager Terry Ryan said. "It's something we think is serious enough for our people to see him here local, again. I don't know exactly the extent of this thing, but obviously, it's something we're concerned about, because we're going to fly him up here again. He's just not responding."

Ryan estimates Wimmers has already undergone two MRIs on the elbow, and a lengthy rehab stint wasn't enough to bring his arm back to life this summer.

"He threw last week, and I thought we were on our way," Ryan said. "He just didn't feel right. Alright, well, the next step is, we're going to have to get him up here to take a look at what's wrong."

Ryan and the Twins consider Tommy John surgery "the last gasp," but by waiting until at least August, Wimmers likely wouldn't be ready to pitch again until the end of the 2013 season, possibly 2014. Best-case scenario, he might have a chance to reach the big leagues by age 25 or 26.

"I think everybody -- not just us -- but almost all clubs would take the conservative route first, try therapy and rehab," Ryan said. "Certain pitchers can pitch with certain things. Others can't. Obviously, he can't pitch with what he's got right now, so we've got to figure out the next step of what we're going to do."

Ryan, knowing how depleted the Twins' starting pitching contingent is, seemed irritated by how long it has taken to figure out a solution for Wimmers' elbow.

"I don't quite get it. I'd like to think we can diagnose and make sure we know what's going to go on, but we're not going to let him go any farther until we figure this out."

Since the beginning of the 2010 season, pitchers on the Twins' major league roster -- not counting Wimmers or Gibson -- have missed nearly 900 days, in-season, due to arm, back or oblique injuries.

Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers pitchers, by comparison, have missed half as many games, although Texas just lost Neftali Feliz to Tommy John surgery this week.

The day Ryan took over for former general manager Bill Smith he said he planned to evaluate the Twins medical and training staffs to make sure the processes weren't flawed, but he wound up making no significant changes.

"As I go, it's the same evaluation," Ryan said. "I'm learning as I go, too. Some things have changed in this world, between the massage therapists and other people that are on board now, we didn't have those things five years ago when I was here, so everything's under evaluation."

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
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