Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Floyd fractures elbow, difficult injury for pitchers

WASHINGTON – You’ve got to feel bad for Gavin Floyd, who looked like a fully recovered pitcher with plenty left in his arm last night, pitching a two-hit shutout through six innings against the Nationals, a little over 13 months after returning from Tommy John elbow surgery.

But the saying in baseball is that a pitcher is always just one pitch away from a potentially catastrophic injury (and that’s why a lot of young players are willing to give up some potential future income in exchange for the security of a multi-year deal even if it has what could end up being below-market salaries in some years late in the deal).

That pitch for Floyd was the first one he threw in the se

venth inning Thursday, a curveball to Jayson Werth that left Floyd shaking his arm afterward as grotesque welt quickly formed on the tip of his elbow.

X-rays taken at Nationals Park revealed a fracture of the olecranon, or what is commonly known as the funny bone. It’s the curved sort of protrusion at the end of the ulna, which is one of the two forearm bones. It’s where the triceps muscle attaches to the bone, and that powerful muscle can actually tear off a piece of the bone or cause a fracture in the olecranon.

It’s problematic for a pitcher because the injury is usually caused by falling or by violent extension of the arm (i.e., pitching) and, whether surgery is required or not, straightening the elbow joint is often more difficult after the injury.

While it’s not a common injury among pitchers, it’s not quite as rare as you might think, either. It’s just that it’s not happened to many pitchers at the major league level, at least during the era when sophisticated testing reveals the specific nature of such injuries and widespread media reports all the details.

We’ll wait for Braves doctors to examine Floyd today and presumably do an MRI and/or CAT scan to get the exact specifics of the injury, but the X-ray taken last night here in D.C. revealed a fracture according to the Nationals team physician. That seems pretty clear-cut, though we weren’t told if it was a stress fracture, a non-displaced or displaced fracture, etc.

Perhaps the extent of the fracture will determine if he needs surgery, but just from what I’ve read up on the subject today, it seems like he probably would if he hopes to pitch again. And since he’s only 31, he does want to continue pitching.

Anyway, the only case that I could find of a fractured olecranon in a major league pitcher was Joel Zumaya, the former 100-mph-plus flamethrower who had a non-displaced fracture of the olecranon in his pitching elbow in June 2010 with Detroit.

The Tigers announced the next day that he would be out for the season  He never pitched in another major league game, but his case was complicated by the fact that Zumaya had multiple shoulder, hand and elbow surgeries before the olecranon fracture.

He missed the next (2011) season after a screw inserted in the olecranon-fracture surgery had to be replaced in another procedure in May. And after Zumaya recovered from that procedure he signed a one-year deal with the Twins in January 2012. One month later in spring training he tore his ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery.

Zumaya never pitched again and retired in February 2014 at age 29.

Floyd is on a one-year, $4 million contract that would have earned him several million more dollars if he’d stayed in the rotation all season. It seems almost certain that he’s done for the season, especially if surgery is required, and the obvious move by the Braves would be to bring back lefty Alex Wood, since he’d been sent to Triple-A to get stretched out to start again.

For now, the Braves recalled lefty reliever Ryan Buchter from Triple-A to give them another bullpen arm for this weekend.

Wood has only made two starts at Gwinnett, but spent spring training and the first month of the season as a starter, so it’s not like he was starting from scratch to rebuild arm strength and endurance to start. He went five strong innings Wednesday in his most-recent start for Gwinnett, and was believed to be in line to start one of the June 28 games in a doubleheader at Philly.

Now, unless the Braves shuffle the rotation because of the off day in the schedule Monday, it seems likely Wood will be back next week to take Floyd’s spot in the rotation. Unless the Braves make a quick move to acquire another starter – and that seems  unlikely – I’d guess David Hale could start one of the doubleheader games and give the Braves a few innings before they piece together the rest of the game with relievers.

That looks to be a better option than any other current minor league starter on the 40-man roster.

I keep getting asked if this means the Braves get involved in the bidding for David Price or another proven top-shelf starter before the trade deadline. I don’t think so, not if it involves giving up multiple prospects or young players for a pitcher who will only be with the team for the rest of this season or through next season before becoming a free agent.

Besides, the Braves are already nearly $10 million over budget because they signed Ervin Santana for $14.1 million in spring training after Kris Medlen and Bradon Beachy had season-ending Tommy John surgery. And the other thing is, strengthening the bullpen remains the priority before the trade deadline.

With Wood added to the rotation, the Braves still have a viable five starters with him joining Julio Teheran, Mike Minor, Aaron Harang and Santana. And if they had to stretch out Hale again to start, they could.

Is it ideal? No. You’d like to add Jeff Samrdzija or Price or someone else who’s a top-of-the-rotation caliber. But unless ownership gives them carte blanche to blow through the budget again – and I don’t see that happening, when it’s not a team that appears to be one piece away from being a strong World Series contender – I’d expect they’ll stick with the plan of strengthening the ‘pen and perhaps adding a bench piece.

But losing Floyd hurts again because he was either going to remain a solid member of the rotation or be a good potential trade piece to help fill other needs.

• Almost inexplicable: Whether they’re hot or cold in the weeks before, one thing remains the same about the Braves lately. They will be at their best against the Nationals.

The Braves are 23-7 with a stunning 1.98 ERA in their past 30 games against the Nationals, including 6-1 with a 1.86 ERA this season. In the past 30 games between the teams, the Braves have outscored the Nationals 125-72, out-hit them .246-.213, out-homered them 31-16, and out-ERA’d them 1.98-3.47.

The Braves have shut out the Nationals twice in those 30 games, held them to one run in nine others, and to two runs eight times. To recap, the Braves have held the Nats to two or fewer runs in 19 of the past 30 games.

• Strasburg tonight: Mike Minor starts tonight against the Nats’ Steven Strephen Strasburg, who is a dominant pitcher most nights when he’s not facing the Braves.

Strasburg is a career-worst 3-5 with a 3.86 ERA in 13 starts against the Braves, including 0-2 with a 3.42 ERA in six since the beginning of the 2013 season. In his past four starts against the Braves he lasted two innings, seven innings, one inning, and 4 1/3 innings, the latter in his only start against them this season.

He was charged with eight hits, six runs (three earned) and three walks in 4 1/3 innings of an April 5 loss against the Braves at Nationals Park, his second-worst start of the season and the only home start in which he’s allowed more than two earned runs or lasted fewer than six innings this season.

That loss to the Braves came in his first home start of the season. In seven home starts since, Strasburg is 5-0 with a 1.72 ERA, with a whopping 62 strikeouts and only eight walks in only 47 innings. In his only non-decisions in that stretch, the Nats scored zero and one run while he was in the games.

In a period that began three starts after his loss to the Braves, Strasburg has gone 5-3 with a 2.22 ERA in his past 11 games, with 80 strikeouts and 11 walks in 73 innings. He has allowed 70 hits in that span, although only four homers.

Does the forgotten Dan Uggla get a rare start tonight? He’s 12-for-30 (.400) vs. Strasburg with two homers, 10 RBIs, three walks, 11 strikeouts. Others who’ve fared well against Strasburg include Jason Heyward (9-for-23 with a homer) and Freddie Freeman (7-for-17, HR, five walks). Justin Upton is 5-for-18 against him, while B.J. Upton is just 2-for-13 with seven strikeouts against Strasburg and Andrelton Simmons is 0-for-11.

Streaking Evan Gattis is 1-for-4 with a memorable homer off Strasburg on a chest-high fastball last season.

Minor is 0-2 with a 4.91 ERA and .309 opponents’ average in his past five starts, with 28 strikeouts, 10 walks and 38 hits (five homers) allowed in 29 1/3 innings.

He gave up 11 hits in each of his past two starts, in four innings at Colorado on June 10 and in five innings at home against the Angels on Sunday. He got no decisions and the Braves won both of those games.

The lefty had allowed just one run in 13 2/3 innings of two road starts before giving up eight runs in four innings June 10 at Colorado in his most-recent road start.

Minor is 3-2 with a 4.96 ERA in nine starts against the Nationals, with 32 strikeouts and 25 walks in 45 1/3 innings. He’s 2-0 with a 5.46 ERA in his past six starts against them, with more walks (20) than strikeouts (16) in 29 2/3 innings. He hasn’t faced them this season because Minor was on the DL when the Braves played the Nationals in two April series.

 • More Floyd: Last night’s win got Gavin Floyd back to .500 for his career at 72-72, including 71-71 with a 4.30 ERA in 196 starts (he has an 8.88 ERA in 12 career relief appearances).

He evened his record at 2-2 with a strong 2.65 ERA in nine starts this season, including 2-2 with a 1.84 ERA in five road starts. He has no decisions and a 3.60 ERA in four home starts.

• Let's close with a timeless gem from Nick Lowe, which you can hear by clicking here.

“CRUEL TO BE KIND” by Nick Lowe

Oh, I can't take another heartache

Though you say you're my friend, I'm at my wits end

You say your love is bona fide

But that don't coincide with the things that you do

And when I ask you to be nice, you say

You gotta be

Cruel to be kind in the right measure

Cruel to be kind it's a very good sign

Cruel to be kind means that I love you

Baby, you gotta be cruel to be kind

I do my best to understand, dear

But you still mystify and I want to know why

I pick myself up off the ground

To have you knock me back down again and again

And when I ask you to explain, well, you say

You gotta be

Cruel to be kind in the right measure

Cruel to be kind it's a very good sign

Cruel to be kind means that I love you

Baby, you gotta be cruel to be kind

Well, I do my best to understand, dear

But you still mystify and I want to know why

I pick myself up off the ground

To have you knock me back down again and again

And when I ask you to explain, well, you say

You gotta be

Cruel to be kind in the right measure

Cruel to be kind it's a very good sign

Cruel to be kind means that I love you


You gotta be

Cruel to be kind in the right measure

Cruel to be kind it's a very, very, very good sign

Cruel to be kind that means that I love you

Baby, you gotta be cruel

So, baby, you gotta be cruel

Said, baby, you gotta cruel to be kind

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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.