Luebke out for '14, will need second elbow surgery
Padres left-hander missed '13 campaign following first Tommy John procedure
SAN DIEGO -- Padres left-hander Cory Luebke will miss his second consecutive season after it was determined that he'll need a second reconstructive surgery on his left elbow.
Luebke, 28, had an MRI on Friday that showed a tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow. He missed all of last season while rehabilitating the elbow from his first Tommy John surgery on May 23, 2012.
"I feel bad for him … from 2011 through the first part of 2012, he was certainly on his way," said Padres general manager Josh Byrnes. "This is a real setback. There's been a lot of missed time. Hopefully in a year or so, he can get back to being Cory Luebke.
"This whole thing has been a mystery."
It appeared Luebke, despite some stops and starts during a rehabilitation program that typically runs 12 to 18 months for pitchers, was set to make a push for a spot on the staff during Spring Training.
But Luebke said late Tuesday that he has had a sinking suspicion for a while that something wasn't right.
"I guess the general consensus was the graft never took and that there were some problems from the get-go," Luebke said. "Kind of the way the process has gone … the stops and starts, and every time we turned up the volume and intensity, it was never too long before we had a setback. That sort of let me know there's something going on.
"My gut feeling through the rehab process was this didn't seem right. And when we did the MRI, it was pretty clear what was going on."
In September, after his rehabilitation was halted because of pain, Luebke visited orthopedic surgeon Dr. Timothy Kremchek in Cincinnati. But three months later, he advanced to the point where he could throw from a mound, an encouraging sign not only for him but also for the Padres.
In late December, Byrnes indicated that Luebke might be a candidate to begin the season in the bullpen, at the very least to build his arm strength for a potential return to the rotation.
Luebke's first surgery was performed by the late Dr. Lewis Yocum, who passed away in May. The next surgery, in all likelihood, will be done by renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews, Luebke said.
"We're not going to wait around too long," Luebke said. "We're now in the process of getting Dr. Andrews all the info right now, getting him the notes. As soon as we hear from him, we'll get something scheduled."
Luebke is 10-12 with a 3.25 ERA in 55 big league games, including 25 starts. He was 3-1 and had a 2.61 ERA in five starts in 2012 before going on the disabled list, a prelude to surgery.
The Padres thought so highly of Luebke's work in 2011 -- when he was 6-10 with a 3.29 ERA in 46 games -- that they signed him to a three-year, $12 million deal in Spring Training of 2012. The deal also included club options for 2016-17.
Luebke will make $3 million this season and $5.25 million in 2015.
"The size, his athletic ability, his intellect," Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley said in Spring Training 2012. "When he puts it together -- and I'm not going to say if -- he's going to be one of the more dominant lefties in the National League."
Luebke last appeared in a game on April 27, 2012, when he won his third consecutive start, limiting the Giants to two runs over six innings. He left that start after throwing 100 pitches. His rehabilitation path last year never reached the point of any Minor League rehab starts.
There's no way to know for sure the long-term prognosis for Luebke, though pitchers have come back from having this type of surgery twice.
Former Padres reliever Doug Brocail had surgeries that caused him to miss the '02 and '03 seasons. But Brocail returned to pitch the next six seasons in the big leagues, including a second stint with the Padres in '06-'07.
More recently, D-backs pitcher Daniel Hudson had his first surgery in '12 and then just weeks before he was set to return last season, he reinjured his elbow during a Minor League rehab start and had to have a second surgery.
Luebke, despite being disappointed, said there's some relief in having an answer to his situation, especially after wondering for the last year or so if he was truly healing or not.
"I guess for me it brings a little closure to what's been going on the last year," Luebke said. "For a while there, the hardest part was the unknown. I think the hardest part was having everyone tell you it looks OK and then take the next step and have a setback."