No news is supposedly good news, but that’s not the case with baseball injuries. The longer one’s status goes unsaid, the more one is left for dead.
Jake Petricka and Charlie Tilson are two of the more extreme cases of this phenomenon. Their injury histories are sprawling fields of red flags, making it very easy to assume the worst. That, in turn, makes any kind of tangible update a relief, even if it still doesn’t officially qualify as positive.
James Fegan is the only one of the beat writers to have Twitter’s expanded character limit, so he was the only one able to sum up Petricka’s recent procedure in one tweet:
Jake Petricka underwent a nerve transposition in his right elbow performed by Dr. James Andrews. Petricka also had his flexor tendon debrided and is expected to resume throwing in 3-4 months— James Fegan (@JRFegan) October 20, 2017
Chris Beck had a similar procedure done in November 2015 and was able to pitch by spring training of 2016. Nate Jones also succumbed to a nerve repositioning procedure this past July, and Rick Hahn said he expected Jones to be ready when pitchers and catchers report. Petricka’s procedure has precedents, and doesn’t seem like a big deal in isolation.
Context counts, though. This is Petricka’s second surgery in two years — the other one was a hip impingement — and he’s had a couple other DL stints in between. Also, he posted a 7.01 ERA and allowed a .947 OPS when he was able to pitch in 2017. Those numbers were on the way down when his season ended early, because his last eight outings represented his best work, but momentum has been difficult for him to sustain.
With 40-man roster spots at a premium and Petricka entering his second arbitration year, his future with the White Sox is on the bubble. This surgery doesn’t change the conversation about his status as much as it clarifies it, because now everybody knows why he missed the last month of the season. I’d guess that the Sox non-tender him, but since his salary still might not breach seven figures, I can see them giving him one more shot.
And then there’s Tilson, who is trying to recover from a string of injuries that cost him the last year and a half. Fegan saw him during the instructional league, and Tilson’s good news still has strings attached.
Tilson made his long-awaited return to baseball activity in Arizona, which has lifted the spirits of everybody who has agonized over his sequence of injuries — the hamstring tear, the stress reactions in his foot, then the stress fracture in his ankle. But it’s hard for anybody to promise anything more:
Tilson isn't quite out of the woods for that last one. Even upon his long-awaited return to game action during instructional league in October, Tilson admitted surgery on his ankle couldn't be ruled out. At one point considered a possibility for some extended time in the Arizona Fall League, Tilson was sent to instructs to see if his ankle can continue to be pain-free through the rigors of game action.
Tilson’s situation reminds me a little of Matt Davidson’s, in that his position is so wide open that he might be able to withstand an even lengthier war with his body. It took Davidson three years to right himself mentally and physically, but due to a weak depth chart that prompted a rebuilding, the White Sox still had a roster spot for him when he stuck at age 26, when everybody was hoping 23. Tilson, who will turn 25 in December, might have the same kind of forgiving window. It’s Leury Garcia in the majors, Luis Robert in A-ball, and big mess in between.