Jarrod Parker’s first time facing hitters this spring ended abruptly Thursday when the A’s right-hander left the mound in pain after throwing a pitch, marking a setback in his latest attempt to return to the majors from injuries.
Parker was throwing to A’s hitters on a back field and had made about 15 pitches when he threw one that missed the plate wildly. Parker yelled, grabbed at his right arm and immediately walked off the field followed by A’s trainers and manager Bob Melvin, who was watching the session.
The A’s initially diagnosed Parker with a lateral elbow impingement, and he was expected to have an MRI exam. Parker, 27, has a history of elbow issues that includes two Tommy John surgeries and a fracture of the medial epicondyle area suffered during a Triple-A rehab start last May – an injury he was working his way back from this spring.
A’s trainer Nick Paparesta, though, said the discomfort Parker felt Thursday was thought to be less serious and was located on the opposite side of the elbow from the sites of his three surgeries, generating optimism that the issue is unrelated and not career-threatening.
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“That’s kind of the best thing we can take out of this, is that it’s definitely the other side of the elbow,” Paparesta said.
Teammates, coaches and several front office members who had come out to watch Parker throw Thursday viewed his final pitch in a stunned silence. It was eerily similar to the scene last year in Nashville, Tenn., when Parker fractured his elbow while throwing a pitch.
“When the pitch occurred (Thursday), his initial reaction to it, obviously we all felt the same thing,” Paparesta said. “But after spending some time with him, he was able to move the elbow back and forth, he was able to do some things, we were able to test certain parts of the elbow. It did not appear to be as serious as that incident in Nashville.
“We’re pretty optimistic that things are going to go well.”
Paparesta said Parker afterward was complaining of discomfort along the outside of his elbow and exhibiting soreness and swelling. But he said Parker had full range of motion in the elbow and did not require a sling or cast when he left the stadium.
Paparesta and team orthopedist Dr. Will Workman, who also examined Parker, believe the issue could be with the extensor muscle in Parker’s elbow. Paparesta suggested Parker may have extended his arm particularly far on his final pitch and felt the muscle “grab,” leading to his reaction.
“He’s been feeling progressively better about his ability to release the ball and extend,” Workman said. “He’s had some fullness in the lateral elbow, and the feeling is that he hasn’t quite adapted to the workload with the extension, and on one of these pitches it came back to bite him. He felt that extension impingement and had a little bit of a muscular recoil as a response to that, and that’s obviously quite a shock.
“While he does have some muscle soreness, it would be a little aggressive to call it a muscle injury just because he had the muscle recall. It’s more that lateral impingement that’s probably driving the process, which is something I think we can manage.”
Workman said the A’s still sent Parker for an MRI because, “I think it’s prudent to get that to see if we can’t get some objective data to support what we’re thinking.”
Facing hitters was supposed to be the latest step on the comeback trail for Parker, who last pitched in the majors in 2013. The A’s had intended for Parker to pitch in Cactus League games later this month and according to Melvin have remained open to Parker coming back as either a starter –his previous role – or a reliever.
“He was looking really good,” A’s closer Sean Doolittle said. “All the (A’s) pitchers have seen him grinding, not just this offseason, but last year. It’s the second time he’s been so close … Everybody’s kind of holding their breath right now hoping for some good news.”
Doolittle said he and catcher Stephen Vogt visited Parker in the training room.
“We didn’t really talk a whole lot,” Doolittle said. “We just wanted to show him that after all he’s been through, that we’re there for him and we’re pulling for him.”
Et cetera – Left fielder/first baseman Mark Canha (back) took batting practice and is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut Friday. Vogt (elbow) threw to bases, but Melvin said there’s no timetable for when he will get behind the plate for the first time this spring.