Rodney to visit renowned orthopedist

Rodney to visit renowned orthopedist

DETROIT -- Tigers reliever Fernando Rodney will visit noted orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews on Wednesday to have his ailing right shoulder examined.

Rodney was scheduled for another bullpen session on Monday after throwing a successful one late last week, but his shoulder soreness quickly resurfaced.

"He went back on the mound throwing out of the bullpen," head athletic trainer Kevin Rand said Monday, "and basically, he didn't feel like he could extend [his arm]. It's kind of the same scenario that we've had. He's still having some discomfort in the back of his shoulder. He's just not right."

Rodney has battled shoulder soreness since late February, soon after the start of camp, but he also missed time last year with shoulder tendinitis. He has progressed several times to the point of pitching off of a mound, but felt something in his shoulder each time.

Previous examinations have shown no structural damage, but his ongoing struggles suggest that something is clearly holding him back.

"The MRI [exams] show what they show," Rand said, "and the bottom line is that he just hasn't been able to get through. He just can't seem to get out there and finish pitches. There's probably some more going on that just hasn't kind of shown up at this point."

Andrews' experience has been tapped by many teams and pitchers over the years for examinations and operations. If Rodney needs shoulder surgery, it would be the worst-case scenario for him personally and a disheartening, potentially devastating blow to the Tigers and their bullpen. A healthy Rodney was the key for Detroit overcoming the loss of Joel Zumaya, who is expected to be out until at least July following a rare offseason surgery to repair a joint in his throwing shoulder.

The Tigers had limited talks with free-agent relievers, but believed that they could get through Zumaya's loss with Rodney as the eighth-inning setup man and Francisco Cruceta pitching in the seventh inning. That belief changed slowly as camp wore on.

As recently as early March, the Tigers held out hope that Rodney would be ready for Opening Day. When the team broke camp without him, the hope was that he would be back by the end of April, at the latest. Once he had to shut down a bullpen session a week and a half ago, the Tigers decided to give it one more try before seeking a specialist.

Rodney progressed farther than before, but not far enough.

"It's hard, because you obviously give him every chance that you can, and we've done that. And he's worked hard. He's done the strengthening. He's rested. He's thrown long. He's built some arm strength up. We've really taken pretty good time with him and really tried to make it work, and it just hasn't worked. And it's frustrating for him."

Even if he didn't need surgery, his struggles have left the club unable to count on having him anytime soon. When Rodney was shut down the last time, the Tigers called up an eighth reliever to help handle the workload, though they have since gone back to a seven-man bullpen.

So for the foreseeable future, the Tigers will have to get by with what they have. Denny Bautista, acquired last December for Jose Capellan, gave a surprising performance in Spring Training to take the setup duties, and manager Jim Leyland is handing the seventh-inning opportunities to a variety of relievers.

Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.