D-backs’ Walker needs Tommy John surgery, Koch gets nod for Friday

Apr 18, 2018, 5:31 PM | Updated: 9:17 pm
(AP photos)...
(AP photos)
(AP photos)

PHOENIX — Disappointing.

That’s the word Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo used to describe the news that right-hander Taijuan Walker needs Tommy John surgery, thus ending his 2018 season only three starts into the year.

Walker met with Dr. David Altchek, an orthopedic surgeon in New York, who confirmed Walker has a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament.

“I don’t know how big the tear was — I don’t have that information — but it was significant enough that a conservative approach would not be the best bet,” Lovullo said Wednesday, ahead of the D-backs’ game with the San Francisco Giants.

Walker was removed from his start Saturday in L.A. after pitching just two innings because of tightness in his right forearm. The next day the D-backs placed him on the 10-day disabled list.

At the time, Walker and the D-backs remained hopeful that the injury was nothing serious.

Walker underwent an MRI on Monday — just to be sure, the team said — and the results showed Walker had hurt his UCL, to what extent is unknown, though severe enough to where surgery is required.

“It’s terribly disappointing. I mean, I hurt for him. I think this organization hurts for him,” Lovullo said. “It’s a lot like Shelby (Miller) last year. It’s one of your players going down, that we were going to count on, is hurting so when he hurts, we all hurt. I know that we’re going to support him the best way that we can, but this is a tough situation we’re walking through. You don’t want to see anybody have to do this, especially in consecutive years. It’s tough, it’s very tough.”

Lovullo was unsure when or who might perform the surgery. This much is known, however. Walker will miss the rest of this season and part of next season.

“I want to say that these players, these athletes take such good care of themselves right now that if—in Shelby’s case, they told him 12-to-14 months. I think that’s pretty close to where he’s going to be and he’s feeling very good,” Lovullo said. “If you hear 15-to-18 months and you trust the doctor that that’s what it will be then you got to trust it, but I think that sometimes it’s a little bit shorter than that. These athletes do a real good job of taking care of themselves now.”

An opportunity for somebody now

Replacing Walker in the starting rotation, at least initially, will be right-hander Matt Koch. He’ll get the start on Friday when the D-backs open a three-game series against the San Diego Padres.

It will be his third big-league career start and first since 2016.

Koch was with the D-backs earlier this season. He made one relief appearance, pitching two scoreless innings with three strikeouts at St. Louis on April 7. The next day he was optioned to Triple-A Reno.

Koch, who was scratched from his scheduled Wednesday start in Reno, and fellow right-hander Braden Shipley were the two candidates the D-backs debated to fill Walker’s sport, according to Lovullo.

“What I tell these guys when we send them out is to go down and do your job and make decisions really hard on us. And it was a tough decision between the two of them,” he said. “They were both strongly considered. We just felt like Matt deserved this opportunity, but it was a tough decision.”

Lovullo would not commit to Koch remaining in the rotation beyond Friday.

“We know that can be a challenging aspect of it, but I know whoever comes up — and in this case Matt — he’ll be ready to go,” Lovullo said.

Health updates

For the second straight day, third baseman Jake Lamb played in an extended spring game; and this time, he played in the field.

Lamb, who suffered a left AC joint sprain on April 2, went 2-for-4 with a walk in five innings.

“I got a ball hit to me, to my backhand. I caught a ball from the catcher. It took me up the line and then the guy ran into me. He didn’t slide so that was a test in itself,” he said. “Today was fine. Didn’t feel anything at all so now it’s just getting the timing back.”

Meanwhile, right fielder Steven Souza Jr. (right pectoral strain) was scheduled to take on-field batting practice with the team on Wednesday and pitcher Randall Delgado (left oblique strain) rejoined the team after a two-inning rehab appearance in Visalia to “just meet with the medical team and just give a bird’s-eye view to how he’s feeling,” according to Lovullo.

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