Eight days ago, Chris Withrow was optioned down to Triple-A in order to make room for Hyun-jin Ryu to return from the disabled list and start in New York. (Fans hated it, though it made all of the sense since he was walking half the league.) I was in the locker room that day, and as we cautiously eyed Paul Maholm to see if maybe it’d be him, it always seemed clear it’d be Withrow. He walked into Don Mattingly‘s office, was told the news, and didn’t seem happy about it. That was that.
Or so it seemed, because Withrow was never officially added to the Isotopes roster, and never appeared in a game for them. The team never announced why, although Mattingly made some vague asides about “some stuff going on” yesterday.
Well, now we know what that “stuff” is, don’t we:
— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) May 29, 2014
The Dodgers further noted that Withrow underwent an examination on May 23, and if that doesn’t smell like a guy who was having arm trouble but didn’t want to admit to it while he still had a major league job, I don’t know what does. (To be fair, that’s total speculation, and may not be the case here; but thanks to Jose Fernandez and all the guys I wrote about here, hiding arm pain has unfortunately become an ongoing trend.) Though the “second opinion” is standard, there’s just about no chance this doesn’t end in Tommy John; we saw how well that turned out for Chad Billingsley.
This is terribly disappointing, although I suppose not in the least bit surprising. Withrow is a hard thrower, regularly averaging 96 mph on his fastball — and if we’ve learned anything at all about what causes elbows to explode, throwing at top speed with full effort is extremely high on that list — and only two pitchers with at least 10 innings this year have a higher walk percentage. Clearly, something wasn’t right, and while his velocity didn’t decline, his control and his release point sure seem like they did:
Now, Withrow is all but certainly gone for the remainder of 2014 and most of 2015, too, and it’s a huge blow, both to him — he’d finally broken through into the bigs last year after decades (seemingly) stuck at Double-A — and to the Dodger bullpen, especially since he was one of the two best relievers along with Kenley Jansen for big stretches of late 2013 and early 2014.
Withrow has been placed on the 15-day disabled list in the bigs, and essentially opens up another 40-man spot should the team need one, since a move to the 60-day disabled list seems all but certain. The Dodgers still do have Jose Dominguez, Paco Rodriguez, Yimi Garcia and Colt Hynes on the 40-man in the ABQ bullpen, plus Matt Magill and Red Patterson in the rotation. (Stephen Fife is sidelined with an arm injury.) They have the depth to withstand this, but they don’t have anyone who is going to replicate what Withrow was at his best — which was very, very good. In the history of the Dodgers, only Jansen and Takashi Saito had a higher strikeout percentage (min. 50 IP) than Withrow’s 31.7%. There’s nothing about this that isn’t bad, especially when a fun side effect is going to be Zach Lee getting traded for Fernando Rodney in a month. (Tell me you can’t see this happening.)
Along with Billingsley, Withrow joins Scott Elbert and Ross Stripling as notable Dodger pitchers to undergo the zipper over the last year or so. It’s an epidemic with no end in sight, and now Withrow has to look ahead to 2016 before his next chance for a full big league season. Terribly disappointing.