On Friday morning, the Oakland Athletics announced that lefty Ken Waldichuk was diagnosed with an elbow injury and is working through the rehab process.
Waldichuk apparently felt discomfort during his final start of the season against the Angels. According to the report, Waldichuk visited Dr. Neal ElAttrache where he was diagnosed with a flexor tendon strain and a UCL tendon sprain in his throwing elbow.
Typically, UCL injuries turn into Tommy John surgeries. Dr. ElAttrache is the leading Tommy John surgeon in the country and performs a significant number of these procedures each year.
Waldichuk did not receive Tommy John surgery, however. According to the A's statement, he received a Tenex procedure on Oct 17, as well as a PRP injection on Oct 24. The Tenex procedure is a way to remove scar tissue from the tendon, typically performed in cases of tendonitis. PRP injections are a common way to treat this type of injury without performing an invasive surgery.
Unfortunately for Waldichuk, the list of players who have taken the non-Tommy John route to deal with UCL injuries and come back to play at the MLB level isn't that long. Masahiro Tanaka is one notable player who opted for PRP injection and successfully came back to pitching without going through Tommy John, but the list beyond that is thin.
No Tommy John yet for Waldichuk, and hopefully it remains that way
Tommy John, or the Internal Brace procedure in applicable cases, is the more common path to treatment, despite the longer recovery period. It's been noted by several medical professionals that players should look to avoid the Tommy John surgery where possible. It's considerably more invasive, has a longer rehabilitation period, and doesn't guarantee successful recovery.
The A's report states that Waldichuk does not have a timeline to return. Typically, there is a 6-10 week layoff with the Tenex procedure before the player can begin the rehab process. That's a significantly shorter timeframe than a more invasive Tommy John or Internal Brace would be.
A conservative estimate puts Waldichuk on track to begin rehabbing in late January, which would possibly get him to spring training on time if everything went according to plan.
One reason why Waldichuk may have opted for this path, rather than Tommy John, is that regardless of if he got the surgery now or six months from now, he'd still be out for the entire 2024 season.
Taking this route allows Waldichuk to try to rehab his way back without taking more extreme action. If he isn't ready for spring training, or encounters setbacks in the following few months, then he can still opt for Tommy John and likely be ready for the beginning of 2025.
Waldichuk doesn't become eligible for salary arbitration until the 2026 season, so there's no rush on the A's part to get his contract situation figured out.
This is an unfortunate scenario for the A's, but hopefully Waldichuk is able to successfully recover from these procedures and get back on track ahead of spring training.