CHICAGO — Kyuji Fujikawa was one of the biggest moves of the Cubs’ off-season, brought in to solidify the middle relief corps and serve as insurance in the probability closer Carlos Marmol was gone after July.
But the Cubs never got much of an opportunity to see Fujikawa show that his dominant numbers in Japan could translate to the major leagues, and on Wednesday announced he’ll undergo Tommy John surgery on his right elbow and be sidelined for the rest of the 2013 season.
The timetable for his return is unknown, but chances are he’ll only have a few months in 2014 to prove he’ll be healthy enough for the Cubs to pick up his $5.5 million option in 2015.
“I think the message (from management) was it already happened so we want you to come back stronger,” Fujikawa said. “I think this surgery has a high success rate and it has history as well so I believe in that. I’m sure it’s going to be a long process for rehab, but I’m willing to work through it and try to come back strong.”
Fujikawa suffered the injury while pitching in Sunday’s 10-inning win over Cincinnati, and said he heard a popping sound while throwing a pitch to the Reds Joey Votto. An MRI on Monday showed a ligament tear, and ended his season after only 12 outings.
“I went all out,” Fujikawa said. “I have no regrets.”
Fujikawa was in the first year of a two-year, $9.5 million deal. He was brought in as the probable replacement for Marmol as the team’s closer in 2014. With Marmol and Kevin Gregg likely to be traded, there is no real candidate now for the role next year.
“That’s a long way away,” manager Dale Sveum said. “I’ve got enough to worry about right now than thinking about next year’s closer.”
No one was too surprised at the news, especially after Fujikawa left Sunday’s game shaking his arm, which swelled up immediately. Fujikawa told the Japanese media afterward he felt a pop in his arm.
“Disappointed,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “Whenever you start talking about forearms, it concerns you. I thought we were cautiously optimistic because the physical exam was pretty positive. But in the back of our minds, we thought, hey, it happened a couple times.
“The thing about him saying he felt a pop, to be candid, I think we were hoping it might have been something that was lost or changed in translation. But obviously, I think he was right.”
It was Fujikawa’s first major injury, and he didn’t want to assess blame for it.
“Getting injured is a reality,” he said. “There is no need to dig into that.”
Hoyer said the Cubs had MRIs on Fujikawa after his initial forearm strain in April, and that there was no reason to believe this could happen.
“They did not show the ligament being involved,” Hoyer said. “The acuteness of the injury indicates it did happen on a pitch.”
Fujikawa rehabbed for a month, pitching in the minors before his return.
“It’s unfortunate, but it’s the nature of pitching,” Hoyer said.
How long it will take to come back is unknown, but it should take at least a year.
Sveum called it a “big blow,” and said he would use Marmol, Carlos Villanueva and Hector Rondon in the set-up role with Fujikawa gone.
“Obviously other people will just have to step up and fill those roles and do the best we can,” he said.
Fujikawa posted a 5.25 ERA in his 12 appearances, and was briefly a closer in April before going on the DL with the forearm strain. Scott Baker and Arodys Vizcaino are also rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and both have had setbacks in 2013, including arthroscopic surgery for Vizcaino just this week.
“We’re all hopeful these guys will recover well and pitch for us,” Hoyer said. “With (Baker and Vizcaino), we have had setbacks along the way. We’re hopeful we’re through those setbacks and they can come back healthy for us.
©2013 the Chicago Tribune
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