Kris Bubic’s season ended before it even really started. The Royals southpaw is scheduled to undergo full ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery, or Tommy John surgery, the team announced on Friday.
Bubic is scheduled for surgery next week with Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles.
“It’s never easy,” Bubic said Friday in a Zoom call with reporters. “I feel like we were making really good progress, turning the corner to elevate things, a new approach and just being aggressive. I was getting pretty close to a really good version of myself there.
“But unfortunately I had to put that on hold for the time being and hopefully I can resume that when I return.”
Bubic hit the 15-day injured list on Sunday with a pulled flexor in his left forearm after his five-inning outing against the Braves. He had felt some pain before the start, but he thought it was general pain that pitchers go through between starts, believing it to be manageable.
When he stepped onto the mound for a cold, rainy start against the Braves, he noticed his stuff was down, but he wanted to push through. He downplayed the tightness he felt in his forearm.
“You can always get out of the game early,” Bubic said. “But being a competitor, I wanted to be out there. I wanted to give her everything I had. I didn’t want to leave the game early, put the team in a bad place, have to use a group of pitchers to get through the game. I just felt like it was manageable enough the other day to get by. I have no regrets to have launched that day.
Bubic went for imaging the next day and was diagnosed with a flexor strain, an injury that usually requires rest. But through the MRI process, doctors at Bubic and Royals discovered that her UCL was damaged enough to warrant discussion of surgery. Bubic had not experienced the usual symptoms of a UCL tear, but imaging showed the damage had been building up for some time.
After seeking second and third opinions in California on Thursday, Bubic decided to have elbow surgery. The typical recovery time for Tommy John surgery is 12 to 15 months.
“I think he’s in a really good frame of mind about it,” manager Matt Quatraro said of Bubic ahead of Friday’s series opener in Anaheim. “As (Bubic) said, there will be ups and downs throughout the rehab process – it’s natural for everyone – both physical and emotional. But I feel really good with the people we have to help and surround him, and I feel really good with where he is and what he knows he’s trying to come back to, so I think he’s in the best position possible.
“I would say it was on the soft side of what guys are reporting,” Royals head athletic trainer Kyle Turner said of Bubic’s forearm pain. “Every week, with every starter, we work our butts, they work their butts to get rid of all the pain from the previous start and be ready on day 5. We were doing a lot of that between starts, and we all felt like it. comfortable about where we were going initially. Unfortunately, he suffered a strain to his flexor while he was there.
“And later, through diagnostics, we found that the ligament was insufficient to handle the stress he was putting on him. The discomfort was coming from the strain in the flexors, not his ligament.
News of the surgery comes at an unfortunate time for the Royals, who entered Friday’s series opener against the Angels in Anaheim with a 4-15 record, and for Bubic, who appeared to have reached a milestone in 2023. After three years of up-and-down results and a 2020-22 career 4.89 ERA, Bubic has made some sweeping changes to his arsenal this offseason. He added a slider, changed his shift grip and saw an increase in speed this season.
Prior to the start against the Braves, Bubic had a 1.64 ERA in two starts with 13 strikeouts and just one walk.
“Every time you change a repertoire or add certain pitches or change your mindset or change your intention, it all comes together,” Bubic said. “Sometimes your body adapts well to stress, sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just kind of how it goes. This is the risk you accept as a pitcher. Being an air thrower is obviously not a natural move.
“It’s not that rare in the game anymore. No regrets in terms of tweaking and changing stuff, just trying to bring out the best version of myself.
The Royals will use an opener in Anaheim on Friday in place of Bubic, with Taylor Clarke starting and Ryan Yarbrough following with the bulk of the innings. It remains to be seen who will take fifth place in the next round. Southpaw Daniel Lynch is still on the injured list with a sprained left rotator cuff, but is expected to return in mid-May. Yarbrough could take over until then, or the Royals could call a Triple-A starter, like Jonathan Heasley or Mike Mayers.