With injury, D-backs enter land of uncertainty
Excitement for Australia and season remains, but without No. 1 starter to share it
The adventure was about to begin for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The anticipation was real, the excitement was genuine. And then came a really lousy piece of news.
The D-backs, as they were nearing their departure for the regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Sydney, Australia, learned that Opening Day starter and rotation ace Patrick Corbin had a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow.
As the rest of the team prepared to leave for Down Under after a 6-5 Cactus League victory over the Brewers on Sunday, Corbin would remain behind to schedule a visit with noted orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion on the left elbow. One basic option in a case like this is the ligament replacement procedure known as Tommy John surgery.
Corbin said he had previously felt elbow tightness this spring, but he did not think anything was wrong until he felt pain in the elbow during the last three pitches he threw in a game Saturday.
"This is all new to me, I've never been hurt before," Corbin said. "It felt like a small, little shock in there."
Corbin, 24, had a fine season for Arizona in 2013, going 14-8 with a 3.41 ERA and being named to the National League All-Star team. More was expected from him this season. Corbin's status as Opening Day starter, even if the D-backs were opening in a different hemisphere, indicated as such. Wade Miley will now get the Opening Day assignment in Australia against the Dodgers
"We're all disappointed," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said of Corbin's injury. "I think it's a big blow to the individual that he's going through this, also for the team. We've all prepared for him to be a part of it."
"It's tough. I feel bad for Patrick," Arizona general manager Kevin Towers said. "When you get that news, myself, I went through it myself back in the '80s. It's tough. It's scary. He was all excited about going to Australia and to see his teammates getting ready to get on the plane ... knowing there's a chance he could miss the entire season, that's tough."
Asked who would move into the rotation to replace Corbin, Gibson said the matter would require considerable discussion.
"We'll have plenty of time to have conversations on the plane, obviously," Gibson said, referring to the 17-hour trip to Australia.
Josh Collmenter and Randall Delgado would appear to be among the leading in-house candidates to replace Corbin in the rotation.
While none of the D-backs tried to diminish Corbin's importance to the team, there was an underlying notion Sunday that the club would not be inclined toward folding up on the basis of one injury.
"We'll be tested, like every other club will be tested," Gibson said. "But we're eager to start that journey."
First baseman Paul Goldschmidt said that even without Corbin, "we've got deep pitching and a determined team."
Goldschmidt went further than that when he was asked how he felt about Arizona's roster in general.
"I think it's awesome," he said. "I think we've got a very talented team. We've got a bunch of great guys, a great coaching staff, front office, P.R. staff, everyone here. I'm excited for the start of the season, but I know everyone is."
"I like our roster," Towers said.
The GM said he believed this was a better ballclub that the 2013 D-backs, with speed and power and an improved bullpen and the addition of a highly consistent veteran starter in Bronson Arroyo.
The D-backs scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth Sunday to defeat the Milwaukee Brewers, 6-5, in front of 12,871 fans, their largest crowd at Salt River Fields.
It should have been a truly festive occasion, with the D-backs about to wing their way to the other side of the globe, to play an exhibition game against the Australian national team and then to open the regular season against their NL West rivals.
It is a venture that is simultaneously new and historic. The D-backs, as individuals and as an organization, have made it clear they are treating the event as an honor.
Ordinarily, this Sunday would have been the happy, hearty takeoff point toward that honor. But it could not be exactly that, not with the knowledge that the projected Opening Day starter, the No. 1 pitcher in Arizona's rotation, Patrick Corbin, is quite possibly looking at a season that, for him, has already ended.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.