Seay has torn rotator cuff, will rehab

UPDATE @1:45pm: Head athletic trainer Kevin Rand expressed some confidence Saturday afternoon that Seay can get back with rehab and avoid surgery. “I have a pretty good feeling we can get him through all that,” Rand said.

Tigers reliever Bobby Seay told Saturday morning that he has a torn rotator cuff, but will try to rehab through the injury rather than undergo surgery that could threaten his career.

The veteran left-hander visited Thursday with orthopaedic specialist Dr. James Andrews, who gave him his options. Surgery, he was advised, should be a last resort and only if rehab doesn’t work, because the track record of pitchers coming back from it and throwing effectively isn’t as good as it is for other procedures. It would cost him at least a year, and it’s far some certain he would be come back as the same pitcher.

“It’s an injury you have to try to rehab through,” Seay said. “You have to exhaust all your options.”

Seay said the injury was called a Grade 2 undersurface tear. It nearly qualified as a Grade 3 tear, which would be the most severe on the scale and close to a complete tear. It involves the supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendons, and it doesn’t heal itself. The hope for rehab is to strengthen the muscles and everything around the injury to take as much pressure off it as possible.

The minimum time for a rehab program, Seay said, is six weeks. There is a history of pitchers who have avoided surgery and pitched effectively with a rotator cuff, including Todd Stottlemyre. On the other side, Pedro Martinez underwent rotator cuff surgery a few years ago and has come back to pitch effectively.

Still, the news is basically a worst-case scenario for the Tigers, and certainly for the 31-year-old Seay, who was coming off a season where he set a career high with 67 appearances. He was on track to be a critical part of the bullpen this year, and he’s eligible for free agency at season’s end.

The Tigers placed Seay on the 15-day disabled list Saturday. With Seay sidelined, fellow lefty Phil Coke becomes critical in Detroit’s bullpen. So, too, could Fu-Te Ni, who was effective pitching alongside Seay for the second half of last season.

Seay has had pain in his shoulder ever since he began throwing again this winter. He tried to pitch through it, but was shut down after his first side session of Spring Training produced pain he hadn’t felt before.

The injury was originally diagnosed as bursitis in his upper arm and tendinitis in his shoulder, and he tried to throw again after taking medication and getting some rest. His first side session went well, but he couldn’t lift his arm into position to throw when he tried to do it again. Seay underwent an MRI exam last week.

“At least I have some clarity as far as what’s going on,” Seay said.

It’s entirely possible Seay was pitching with the injury down the stretch last year, and that the pain only surfaced once his shoulder cooled down over the offseason.

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