The 2019 and 2020 MLB seasons were filled with injuries for the New York Yankees. Unfortunately, before the 2021 season even started, the Yanks have been bitten by the injury bug—again. On Tuesday, the team announced that reliever Zack Britton would return to New York and undergo orthoscopic surgery to remove a bone chip from his left elbow in the upcoming days. The recovery timetable for this injury does vary, but it’s said to mainly be around 3-4 months.
For those who are unfamiliar with the specifics of what a bone chip entails, it’s when fragments of bone or cartilage become loose and float around in the elbow joint. The injury occurs as a result from a force to the elbow joint.
Britton obviously isn’t the first pitcher to require this procedure for his elbow, as many around the league have had issues with a bone chip/spur in the past. Some have been able to pitch through it, while had to go under the knife. With that said, let’s take a look back at some of the other pitchers around the league that dealt with such an injury and were able to recapture their power and command on the mound.
There are a few notable names that returned from their procedures and continued to produce as they had before. As a matter of fact, some even pitched better on the hill than they ever had in the past—Mr. Stephen Strasburg.
Strasburg underwent surgery in 2013 to remove bone chips from his elbow. He returned in 2014 as his best self. He threw a career-high 215 innings with a 10.13 K/9 and 3.14 ERA. The righty also registered a 4.5 fWAR and finished ninth in the Cy Young voting. Safe to say that the surgery did not hurt his play whatsoever.
Former Yankees pitcher Sonny Gray dealt with bone chips during his 2019 season, but he was able to pitch through the pain. An All-Star in 2019, Gray decided to undergo the procedure after the season came to a close, and returned in 2020 without much issue. He tossed 56 innings in the shortened season with a 3.05 FIP, 1.7 fWAR, and 30.6% K%. “They told me I could start throwing in six weeks, but it was weird for a little while,” Gray said as he described the process of recovery. “It got super swollen. I was doing physical therapy for awhile but I started throwing way early, three or four times a week. Six weeks after the season, I felt good.”
Left-handed starter Danny Duffy had been dealing with minor pain in his elbow for a couple years prior to needed surgery in 2017, but loose cartilage and bone chips finally got to him and began to cause inflammation. Similar to Sonny Gray, Duffy did pitch through it at first, but does admit he wish he had it done sooner. “I wish I had done this [surgery] a while ago,” Duffy said. “[Trainer] Nick Kenney had been on me to get it done, but I kept feeling like I could manage my way through it.” When Duffy recovered from the procedure, he remained a consistent option. He threw 155 innings for the Royals in 2018 with an 8.19 K/9 and 130.2 innings in 2019. The 32-year-old southpaw is entering his third season removed from the surgery without any reoccurring issues.
After an MRI back in 2014, Jon Lester learned that he had a bone chip in his elbow. Despite that, he pitched through it for years, and even earned himself a six-year $155 million contract—and the Cubs knew about it before inking the lefty. The injury obviously has not impacted his durability as he’s thrown over 170 innings since then (excluding the shortened season). His overall numbers aren’t too shabby, either. He’s a decent arm in the middle of the rotation with veteran experience.
Losing Zack Britton is a huge loss to the Yankees bullpen and he’s going to be tough to replace. However, after going through the many other pitchers who have dealt with the same ailment, there is most definitely hope for Britton to come back even stronger when he does indeed return to the mound.