Giants closer Brian Wilson is likely headed for surgery on his right elbow after an MRI revealed structural damage and an issue with the ligament, and his season could be in jeopardy.
Manager Bruce Bochy and athletic trainer Dave Groeschner said Saturday the club will seek at least one other opinion and probably two, including from the renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews, who performs Tommy John elbow-reconstruction surgeries.
"There's definitely some issues there," Bochy said. "Initially I was just being optimistic he would be fine, but after the test done yesterday it doesn't look very good right now. ... Likely he's looking at surgery."
The 30-year-old Wilson, who led the majors with 48 saves in 2010, already had one Tommy John surgery during college. The three-time All-Star right-hander complained of discomfort in the elbow Friday and then was sent for tests. He was to be examined again by team orthopedist Dr. Ken Akizuki on Saturday night, and is to be placed on the 15-day disabled list by Sunday to clear roster room for starter Ryan Vogelsong to come off the DL.
Groeschner said Tommy John surgery "would be a possibility" because of the structural issues. And if Wilson needs work on the ligament, Groeschner acknowledged that could cost the reliever his season.
"There's some concern," said Groeschner, who noted Wilson was having trouble just playing catch. "He's stiff. He can't move it great. It's not really anything you can see visually."
Recovery time for Tommy John surgery is typically a year to 18 months, though many managers have noted players seem to be coming back on the shorter end of the time frame lately.
Wilson wasn't available for the home opener against Pittsburgh on Friday, when Matt Cain tossed a one-hitter. Wilson threw 32 pitches at Colorado on Thursday while working on back-to-back days. Groeschner said Wilson felt something in the elbow that day, but told the team Friday.
"You feel for Willie, he's worked hard on his rehab, he's been down a long road," Bochy said. "We didn't have any hiccups, it all went well. Spring training went well with the rehab, we checked off every box with him, back-to-back days. It looked like he was all set to go and this happens. You're disappointed for Willie, first of all, and obviously for the team. We have a good bullpen. We'll figure a way to get this done. Certainly we'll miss him."
While Bochy said it would be nice to find a regular closer, for now he is going to give the ninth-inning opportunities to Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo or even Javier Lopez — both of whom helped fill in when Wilson missed time late last season with elbow issues.
Wilson went 6-4 with a 3.11 ERA and 36 saves in 57 appearances last season, held out down the stretch as a precaution. He said during spring training all seemed right with his elbow.
He is the latest in a growing list of pitchers who are landing on the disabled list with elbow problems early this season — including a handful of closers.
Twins right-hander Scott Baker announced this week that he was having season-ending surgery to repair the flexor pronator tendon in his elbow. That's not Tommy John, but it still requires six months of rehab and will keep him from pitching again this season.
Mariners left-hander George Sherrill has an elbow strain, Nationals closer Drew Storen had surgery this past week to remove bone chips from his elbow, Baltimore lefty Tsuyoshi Wada is on the DL with a sore elbow, and both Angels reliever Michael Kohn and A's right-hander Joey Devine had Tommy John surgery this week. Royals closer Joakim Soria had the surgery on April 3.
Reds closer Ryan Madson also underwent Tommy John surgery this past week for a torn elbow ligament. Hard-throwing righty Joel Zumaya injured a joint in his troublesome elbow in his first bullpen session of spring training and was released by the Twins.
"It's a tough sport. It's a throwing sport. These type of things happen," Groeschner said. "It's the first week of the season, so who knows? You've got to go through the whole season and look and see if there's going to be more or not. It's not alarming right now, no."