Some analysts view the San Diego Padres as a sleeper contender for the 2014 season. One of the reasons for that is a pitching staff that could feature five to six quality starters and a bullpen that goes four to five arms deep. However, that depth will now take a hit with the news that left-hander Cory Luebke needs another Tommy John surgery and will miss the entire season.
This isn't a repeat post from 2012. Luebke did have reconstructive surgery on his left elbow almost two years ago, but requires the procedure again after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament during his rehabilitation. A MRI exam conducted last week showed the tear.
Luebke told MLB.com's Corey Brock that he knew something wasn't right during the rehab process because there were so many stops and starts to his throwing program. Every time Luebke tried to increase the intensity and workload of his throwing sessions, he would soon feel pain in his left elbow.
As Brock reports, one of those setbacks occurred in September and Luebke was subsequently examined by an orthopedic surgeon. But no structural damage was found and Luebke resumed his throwing program. He even progressed to the point that he could throw off a mound three months later. It appeared that the Padres could tentatively count on Luebke participating in spring training and making a contribution to the 2014 club. Those ambitions have now obviously been shelved.
Having undergone Tommy John surgery and worked through a rehab program once already, one can only imagine how devastating this development must be for Luebke. To go through the surgery and rehab all over again has to be grueling. Obviously from a physical standpoint, he'll face the uncertainty of whether or not his elbow will hold up. But mentally, it has to be tremendously difficult to pick yourself back up and push through the ordeal again, with no guarantee of success. If he comes back, however, he'll be an asset to the Padres' pitching staff.
Luebke was likely to begin the season pitching in relief as he tried to build his arm strength and stamina back up to a starter's workload. But even then, he could've filled a key role in the Padres bullpen as a left-handed reliever capable of throwing strikeout stuff. Luebke has averaged 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings over his career, combined with a rate of 2.8 walks.
In his only full season, Luebke threw 139.2 innings and made 46 appearances (17 of them starts) in 2011. He compiled a 6-10 record, 3.29 ERA and 154 strikeouts versus 44 walks. That was enough for the Padres to make a four-year, $12 million investment in Luebke. He's only pitched 31 innings since then. Luebke made five starts in 2012 before being sidelined, going 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA and 23 strikeouts.