Once upon a time, the Atlanta Braves weren’t sure which of their two elite, young bullpen arms – Craig Kimbrel of Jonny Venters – would have the better major league career. Venters’ UCL ultimately decided that.
While Venters was an All-Star in 2011 – posting a 1.84 ERA in a league-high 85 appearances – he needed Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career in May of 2013. In the recovery process from said surgery, Venters tore his UCL a third time leading to him having to undergo the surgery yet again in September of 2014.
All told, Venters didn’t pitch in the major leagues from 2013-2017. He actually made it back with the Tampa Bay Rays in 2018, and has since pitched again for the Braves and for the Washington Nationals. However, Venters missed the Nationals World Series run a season ago after having to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery in August. Meanwhile, Kimbrel has had one of the most prolific careers in the history of his role, making multiple All-Star teams as a member of the Braves and Boston Red Sox.
This is all a long-winded way of saying this: Philadelphia Phillies reliever Seranthony Dominguez’s career is beginning to resemble Venters in some ways, and the organization doesn’t appear to have anyone even close to Kimbrel’s caliber to lean on.
Dominguez burst onto the scene in 53 appearances in 2018, demonstrating electric stuff and posting a 2.85 FIP. In an organization whose best home-grown relievers ever are probably Ryan Madson and Ken Giles, it felt entirely possible that Dominguez could end up being the greatest reliever that the Phillies have ever developed.
Instead, just over two years after he made his major league debut, it increasingly feels as though the Phillies can’t plan for a future that involves Dominguez.
After a slow start to the 2019 season, Dominguez left the mound during an appearance in San Diego in early June, the same series that Andrew McCutchen tore his ACL during. The right-hander wouldn’t pitch again in 2019.
Though the Phillies initially feared that Dominguez would need Tommy John surgery, Dr. James Andrews, the preeminent expert on such matters, determined that Dominguez didn’t need the procedure and instead gave him a platelet-rich plasma injection, with the hopes that he could return late in the 2019 season.
That didn’t happen.
However, while Dominguez did suffer a setback in his rehab, it was again determined that he didn’t need Tommy John surgery, and general manager Matt Klentak said at the conclusion of the season that Dominguez should have a normal offseason after being able to ramp up successfully before his end-of-the-year shutdown.
By all accounts, Dominguez did have a normal offseason. His new pitching coach, Bryan Price, even acknowledged that the team had to make sure he didn’t get too aggressive in his preparation for 2020.
Alas, it only took one Grapefruit League appearance, after a seemingly positive start to spring training, for Dominguez to again injure his UCL. This time, Dominguez was recommended for Tommy John surgery, a procedure that would end his 2020 season before it ever really started.
Naturally, the 25-year-old didn’t want to rush into having such a career-altering surgery before getting other opinions. The only issue is that news broke of Dominguez being recommended for that surgery a couple weeks after MLB suspended spring training and delayed the 2020 season because of COVID-19. Dominguez, at last check, had returned to the Dominican Republic, and was unable to get back into to the United States to get a second opinion because of the pandemic. That was nearly two months ago, and there’s no evidence to suggest anything has changed.
Still, if the first opinion was that Dominguez needs Tommy John surgery, one would think that the second doctor will concur with the first evaluation. Dominguez may not be able to get that opinion until July. The best-case scenario then is that Dominguez would have Tommy John surgery in July or August, which would end his 2020 season and put 2021 and beyond in doubt.
Consider this: Phillies reliever David Robertson had Tommy John surgery last August, and while he and the Phillies are hopeful he can make an impact in August or September, it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t pitch at all in 2020. The Phillies could wind up in a very similar place with Dominguez next season, and that’s assuming he’s able to get Tommy John surgery is relatively short order if it’s confirmed that he needs it. Given how strapped the medical system is currently, perhaps that shouldn’t be assumed.
In all likelihood, Dominguez will miss large chunks of the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons. You have to feel for him, because this was out of his hands, he’s simply had bad luck physically. But from the Phillies perspective, this is a business. And while the organization can hope that Dominguez is eventually able to come back and realize his potential, planning for such a future given everything we now know would be ill-advised.
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