Rogers out three months after surgery
Veteran has blood clot removed from left shoulder
LAKELAND, Fla. -- What was hoped to be a short-term injury for Kenny Rogers will instead likely cost the left-hander half the season. How much it costs the Tigers in their American League title defense could be the story of Detroit's 2007 campaign.
The Tigers announced on Friday that Rogers underwent surgery to remove a blood clot and repair two arteries in his left shoulder. It was a worst-case scenario for what was originally hoped to be a relatively minor procedure, and it ended up becoming a potentially major blow to Detroit's rotation.
The saving grace for the Tigers was that it wasn't as devastating as it could've been to Rogers.
"I'm just glad because Kenny's OK," manager Jim Leyland said. "Forget the pitching part. This is pretty dangerous stuff. For him to come back this year, that's a bonus."
The 42-year-old Rogers was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with what was then listed as a fatigued arm. The original diagnosis was a blood clot, but the Tigers hoped it would be easier to repair. Pitcher Craig Dingman, for example, missed just a few weeks this spring after doctors removed a blood clot from his shoulder.
President/CEO/general manager Dave Dombrowski said Thursday that the team hoped it wasn't a long-term injury. Those hopes were dashed once Rogers had further examination from Dr. Greg Pearl, a specialist based out of Baylor University.
"The treatment of the blood clot was done a little bit differently than what we might've had happen if it was a shorter term," Dombrowski said. "There was some thought, until they went in there, that perhaps they could treat that blood clot differently than what they ended up doing."
Instead of a minor procedure, doctors had to do some artery replacement. The operation removed a clot and repaired both the axillary and brachial arteries. The brachial artery runs down the arm before splitting into two arteries. The axillary artery is located in the upper chest and runs blood to the head and arms.
Dr. Pearl had previous experience with Rogers, having performed surgery to clear an artery in the same part of the shoulder back in 2001. That procedure involved removing a rib that was pinching shoulder muscles and blocking an artery, diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome. Ironically, that was the last trip to the disabled list for Rogers, who hadn't missed a turn through the rotation since 2005.
Rogers will be under complete rest for about a month and is expected to resume throwing in 6-8 weeks. Given that timetable, Dombrowski said, "It's probably three months until you would anticipate him back starting at the Major League level, somewhere around there. This is not a real common injury, so we're dealing with an unusual circumstance."
Fellow Major League pitcher Kip Wells was diagnosed with a complete blockage of his axillary artery in 2005. His artery had to be replaced in early March. He began throwing in rehab outings in late May and returned to the Majors on June 20 of that season.
While the Tigers missing a pitcher isn't unusual -- they spent most of last season without Mike Maroth in the rotation -- this could be a particularly tough test. Not only did Rogers tie for the team lead with 17 wins last season, he was the heart and soul of Detroit's playoff run. Rogers' 23 consecutive scoreless innings last postseason is topped only by Chris Mathewson's 27-inning streak in 1905.
"You can't downplay it," Leyland said. "I think you're [lying] if you downplay it."
Just as important, however, is Rogers' mentoring ability. He has become the veteran whom Detroit's younger starting pitchers seek out for advice and tips, and has played a role in the development of youngsters like Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Justin Verlander.
"Nate feeds off of him," said catcher Vance Wilson, who will also be on the disabled list to start the season. "Bonderman feeds off of him. Verlander feeds off of him. Everyone feeds off of him. They're going to have to pick up the slack, obviously."
The plan for replacing him in the rotation remains the same, even with the longer absence. Chad Durbin, who was moved out of the bullpen to replace Rogers in the rotation for at least one start, will remain the fifth starter for the foreseeable future. Andrew Miller, the first-round draft pick from last season who was the other option to replace Rogers, will start the season at Class A Lakeland and go from there.
Dombrowski didn't eliminate the idea that Miller could come up at some point, but it's not going to happen anytime soon.
"He's a guy that we think is going to be a star pitcher," Dombrowski said of Miller. "And he's not far away from doing it, in our opinion. We had the luxury of allowing him to really take time at this point because we didn't have any need. We'll see how Durbin does, and we think he'll pitch well enough. We think he'll do a good job."
Durbin was a starter last year at Triple-A Toledo, going 11-8 with a 3.11 ERA in helping lead the Mud Hens to their second consecutive International League Governors' Cup. He won the battle for the final spot in Detroit's bullpen over Zach Miner, who started in Maroth's place for most of last summer.
He can't replace Rogers, Dombrowski cautioned, but he can be an effective fifth starter. The Tigers lose their edge of having five established, successful starters in their rotation, but a reminder of their pitching depth came out when Dombrowski was asked about potentially trading for another starter.
"First of all, we're expecting to get [Rogers] back," Dombrowski said. "Secondly, at this time of year, everybody's been calling us for pitching. We're probably as deep as anybody in baseball. I know people always talk about it, but you never have enough pitching."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.