No matter how long it takes for the 2020 baseball season to begin, it might be much longer before Seranthony Dominguez pitches again.
It has been suggested to Dominguez that he undergo a reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, a source close to the Phillies reliever said Monday evening. The procedure, commonly known as Tommy John surgery, typically sidelines a pitcher for at least 12 months.
But Dominguez has not yet decided whether to go through with it. Tests aren’t conclusive for a tear in the ligament, according to the source, and Dominguez’s appointment for a second opinion coincided with the Dominican Republic’s imposing travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Phillies and Dominguez mutually agreed that he should return home while he still could. He plans to rest his arm while baseball is shut down and go for additional testing when he returns stateside.
Having surgery now, especially given the uncertainty over when teams might be cleared to reconvene this year, could mean the difference between Dominguez’s missing a few months of the 2021 season or missing the entire year. New York Mets starter Noah Syndergaard had Tommy John surgery last week; Boston Red Sox ace Chris Sale did so on Monday.
But many doctors have stopped performing elective surgeries in response to COVID-19. Several states, including Pennsylvania, are prohibiting elective procedures, too. Complicating matters, Dominguez is presently out of the country.
Asked recently about Dominguez's status, Phillies manager Joe Girardi said he was "not sure what Seranthony's decision is yet."
Dominguez, 25, has been hopeful of avoiding surgery ever since injuring his elbow last June. Although he wound up missing the rest of last season, the renowned surgeon James Andrews recommended a platelet-rich plasma injection and rest rather than surgery.
When Dominguez reported to spring training in February, he believed those measures had worked. His optimism grew after a scoreless inning in his first Grapefruit League appearance on March 5.
Three days later, though, he felt what he described as “tightness” in his elbow on his final pitch of an outing against the Toronto Blue Jays. When it didn’t subside the next day, he informed the Phillies’ training staff. After not throwing for three days, he went for an MRI exam on March 12, the day that Major League Baseball suspended spring training.
"I'm really worried," he said at the time. "Because it's my career. It's my life."
The Phillies were counting on Dominguez to pitch in high-leverage situations in the late innings this season and co-anchor the bullpen with closer Hector Neris. In his absence, Tommy Hunter and Victor Arano could emerge as setup candidates, assuming they’re healthy after surgeries curtailed their 2019 season.
Dominguez burst onto the scene in 2018 despite opening that season at double-A Reading as a converted starter. Called up in early May after only three appearances in triple-A, he posted a 2.95 ERA, 11.5 strikeouts per nine innings, and upper-90s radar readings. He was a revelation.
But Dominguez struggled from the jump last season. He lost a few ticks off his fastball velocity and gained more than one run on his ERA. He had a 4.01 mark and 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings through 27 appearances when he injured his elbow in a June 5 game in San Diego and feared he would need a “miracle” to avoid surgery.
More than ever, it seems he was right about that.