PHOENIX — In the latest round of bad news, the Diamondbacks learned Thursday reliever David Hernandez has a torn ulnar collateral ligament that will require Tommy John surgery.
The news further dampened the mood for the D-backs as spring training comes to an end with ace starting pitcher Patrick Corbin already sidelined by his own Tommy John surgery.
"It’s just not the news you want to hear," Hernandez said. "It’s kind of deflating, but at the same time, you’ve just got to keep moving forward."
Hernandez will travel to Pensacola, Fla., to see Dr. James Andrews on Monday for a second opinion, with surgery tentatively scheduled for Tuesday. Andrews also gave Corbin a second opinion and performed the surgery this past Tuesday.
The news came as a major surprise to Hernandez and the Diamondbacks, as the MRI that revealed the damage Thursday was precautionary after Hernandez had experienced lingering soreness for about two weeks.
"I don’t know what to say about it," manager Kirk Gibson said. "It’s disappointing. He worked hard. It wasn’t in the plans, so we have to regroup."
Hernandez, 28, said that when he first felt the soreness, he assumed it was normal fatigue — just as Corbin had. After a week of continued discomfort, he began getting treatment and felt like it was improving. He pitched an inning Wednesday before the D-backs decided to have the MRI.
Hernandez’s injury leaves the Diamondbacks without one of their proven setup men. Former closer J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler have plenty of late-innings experience to help fill the gap, but the loss has the D-backs reevaluating their bullpen dynamic with their home opener Monday.
"It changes it," Gibson said. "Our bullpen is just going to have a different dynamic. It’s another opportunity for someone else as well, though.
"We’ve got a lot of good arms that we’ve had in camp. We still have a lot of good choices. Would we rather have David there? Of course, but we’re going to be without him for sure, it looks like. We’re going to have to reconfigure that."
The D-backs have not made official their adjustment for Corbin’s injury, although it seems likely that Randall Delgado will be the team’s fifth starter. While Hernandez’s injury could open the door for reliever Will Harris to remain in the majors, the D-backs also could keep Delgado as a reliever and make Bo Schultz the fifth starter.
Corbin spoke to reporters Friday for the first time since having Tommy John surgery and was far more at ease than when he addressed the media the day after learning of his torn UCL. Having the surgery done and getting clarity on what’s next was a relief, but Corbin is still coping with losing the 2014 season.
"Realizing I’m not going to be pitching this year, it’s just kind of something I’m still trying to get a better feel for," Corbin said. "It’s good to be back here with the guys and see everybody today, but the only thing I can think of, honestly, is it just sucks I’m not going to be able to play this year."
Corbin, 24, returned to the D-backs on Wednesday and will remain around the team during his rehab process. He won’t travel with the team for road games, rather remaining in Arizona rehabbing at the team’s spring training complex.
Corbin said he had mentally prepared himself for the prospect of needing Tommy John surgery when he traveled to see Andrews, though it didn’t make getting the confirmation much easier.
I guess Corbin and I are going to be hanging out a lot this summer. It’s not good, but we’ll be able to push each other and get back.
D-backs reliever David Hernandez
"I pretty much knew that it might have been surgery, and that’s kind of where my mind was then," Corbin said. "Then, when I heard from him that it was, it was just, ‘All right.’ I just wanted to get it done as quick as I could, because I wanted to start rehabbing as fast as I can."
Corbin and Hernandez — assuming Hernandez does require surgery — will join fellow Diamondbacks pitchers Daniel Hudson and Matt Reynolds in rehabbing from Tommy John surgeries. Having such a support system, Corbin and Hernandez agreed, will help make the process easier to handle, as will going through it together. Rehab from the surgery typically takes a full year.
"I guess Corbin and I are going to be hanging out a lot this summer," Hernandez joked of the bad news. "It’s not good, but we’ll be able to push each other and get back."
While the latest blow brought another cloud over the D-backs’ season, which began with two losses to the Dodgers last week in Australia, the team can do nothing but remain optimistic and determined as the regular season begins in earnest.
The losses of Corbin and Hernandez create additional challenges, but Gibson insists that the Diamondbacks will embrace the challenge as they try to improve on back-to-back 81-81 seasons.
"We’ve got to pick each other up," Gibson said. "It’s a new challenge for us. It’s something we have to deal with that we didn’t think we’d be dealing with a day ago, yet that’s what being a champion is all about. That’s part of it."