A great defensive play could end up sidelining Brewers first baseman Eric Thames for several weeks after an MRI showed a UCL tear in his right thumb.
Thames left Tuesday night’s win over the Kansas City Royals in the 8th inning after making a diving stop to rob Mike Moustakas of a hit. He could be seen taking his glove off and shaking his hand after throwing to a covering Dan Jennings at first base to record the out.
After getting the results of the MRI Wednesday, the Brewers put Thames on the 10-day disabled list and called up right-hander Brandon Woodruff.
1B Eric Thames has been placed on the 10-day disabled list with a tear of the UCL in his left thumb. RHP Brandon Woodruff has been recalled from Triple-A @skysox. pic.twitter.com/zwunWFRatG— Milwaukee Brewers (@Brewers) April 25, 2018
An official timetable for Thames’ recovery hasn’t been announced yet, but if you thought to yourself “tearing the UCL in his thumb doesn’t sound good,” you’d be right.
Adam McCalvy gives us some context with some better-known examples of the injury in recent memory -- Bryce Harper and Mike Trout both missing 1.5 to 2 months:
Bad news for Brewers. Thumb UCL tears cost Bryce Harper two months in ‘14 and Mike Trout six weeks in ‘17. https://t.co/zamtQPGd1n— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) April 25, 2018
Of the possibility for surgery for Eric Thames, David Stearns said, "It's not a definite, but likely." Brewers do expect him back for a "significant" portion of 2017.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) April 25, 2018
Missing two months at this point would mean a return sometime just before the All-Star break, meaning he would still be healthy for much of -- if not all of -- the second half the team’s schedule. General Manager David Stearns told Tom Haudricourt he expects Thames to still be a big contributor this year:
“Surgery is not definite but it is probably likely. We want to have him see a couple of additional doctors to confirm everything before we have a definitive treatment plan. But that’s where this is likely headed. Once he has the surgery, if that’s where this goes, we can set a more concrete time frame for his return. The hope is that by tomorrow afternoon or evening, we have a firm plan.
”It’s obviously going to be a while. We do fully anticipate him contributing again this year, playing for us again this year, playing a significant portion (of the season) for us. But his season is going to be on pause for a little bit. Obviously, that’s frustrating for Eric and it’s unfortunate for our team in general.”
Heading into the year, there was a lot of digital ink spilled in this space and plenty of arguments in the comments and social media about the apparent logjam the Brewers had in the outfield and at first base. Stearns was criticized by some for not loosening that logjam by trading a piece or two for pitching.
Now less than a month into the season, the team’s depth at the position has paid off, with Christian Yelich already spending time on the disabled list and Lorenzo Cain and Ryan Braun getting banged up, and now this more longterm injury to Thames.
The Brewers could have exposed Jesus Aguilar to waivers earlier in the year when they needed fresh arms in the bullpen, but chose to hang on to Aguilar at all costs. That move now seems like it’s paid off, as Aguilar now looks to get an extended shot at playing every day. If he falters against right-handed pitching, we could still see the return of Ji-man Choi at some point in the next couple months.
While Aguilar is a capable stand-in, the injury is still a significant blow to the offense. Thames got off to another hot April start, hitting .250/.321/.625 in 22 games for a .976 OPS, 164 OPS+ and a team-leading 7 home runs. He was even better against right-handed pitching, with a .250/.344/.661 line.
Meanwhile, Woodruff returns to the 25-man roster, and will seemingly pitch out of the bullpen again, at least for now. That’s despite his struggles coming out of the bullpen during his first stint in the majors this year and his strong work in the rotation in Colorado Springs (Redbeard has a 1.65 ERA in 3 starts for the Sky Sox since getting sent down).
Brandon Woodruff will be available out of the 'pen beginning tonight, David Stearns said. Woodruff is not currently scheduled for a start. Brent Suter still to start Friday at Wrigley.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) April 25, 2018
It’s possible Woodruff regains the 5th spot in the rotation at some point and Brent Suter gets bumped to a swingman relief role.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference