Whether it’s out of the bullpen in late September or during October’s instructional league in Florida, the Toronto Blue Jays expect to see Brandon Morrow pitch again this year in what will be an important gauge of his progress for the 2014 season.
Before that can happen, the hard-throwing right-hander must first sit through a six-week period of no activity in order to calm the entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm diagnosed Wednesday by Dr. James Andrews, and officially announced by the team Thursday.
Rest alone should resolve the problem, allowing Morrow to return when ready.
“It’s just inflammation, which ultimately will push the nerve, that’s how it was explained to me,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos. “With more time the inflammation will calm down, and the nerve will be fine. It just takes time.
“With something like this, there’s no template to say it should be X amount of days. Dr. Andrews, right now he’s saying six weeks of no activity, but he’s also told us if he feels significantly better sooner, we can look to shorten that. Right now the expectation is six weeks.”
While a source told sportsnet.ca on Wednesday that two previous exams had mentioned the nerve issue, Anthopoulos explained that “the entire time no one knew for certain,” which is why the team made no public mention of the possibility.
Three MRIs revealed nothing but inflammation; the ligaments thus far appear structurally sound.
“Now that we’ve given it this type of rest, we’ve done MRIs again, and with all the evidence we have over time, we ultimately believe (the radial nerve entrapment) is what it is,” said Anthopoulos. “But it took all this time to find out what it was. It’s not an easy thing to diagnose.”
Anthopoulos said Morrow feels the root of the nerve entrapment – which can be related to repetitive pronation or supination of the arm – is from the number of cutters the right-hander threw during spring training.
While some pitchers like Mariano Rivera can throw a cutter over and over without issue, others may not take as well to it.
“He fell in love with the pitch, it was a good pitch for him, and Brandon will tell you, he feels like his use of the cutter, and he probably threw too many, certainly didn’t help,” said Anthopoulos. “And that’s where his forearm started to get sore.”
Morrow said the forearm issue first became problematic toward the end of a May 23 outing against Baltimore and then forced him from his next start May 28 against Atlanta after just two innings. But as far back as April 19 against the New York Yankees he complained of trouble getting loose, and he later had to push back a start because of back and neck spasms.
The last time he pitched was in a June 17 rehab game for single-A Dunedin, allowing three runs in two innings while leaving the outing early because the pain returned.
Hampering the recovery is that he never had more than 12 consecutive days of non-activity, preventing the area from fully healing.
“There was a lot of trial and error and if you feel better, then you can start throwing again. You’re relying on the player to tell you when they feel better,” said Anthopoulos, adding that when he would pitch, “he didn’t feel good afterwards.”
Six weeks of rest would take Morrow to Sept. 5, and while that wouldn’t leave enough time for him to be built up as a starter, an inning or two of relief isn’t out of the question.
Given all the questions already plaguing the rotation, getting some answers on his status is crucial for the Blue Jays.
“I think we’ll have some type of a read,” said Anthopoulos. “The medical staff feels like if he’s off the mound and feels fine, he’s good at that point in time, he should be good to go going forward. God forbid, knock on wood, if there’s something along the way where he can’t pass those tests, than absolutely, it will change our outlook.
“But right now, the prognosis is that the outcome is going to be a favourable one, and we’ll be able to get him off the mound by the end of the season, either out of the bullpen out here or in the instructional league out in Florida.”