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Seth Maness on Opting for Experimental Primary Repair Surgery

He bucked Tommy John surgery in a gamble that has paid off

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

In early 2016, Royals hurler Seth Maness began to struggle. His pitches lost velocity, and his ERA ballooned to 6.39 before he went on the disabled list with elbow inflammation in mid-May. He returned in June and salvaged part of his season, but by August his elbow flared up again, and Maness was told he would need Tommy John surgery. His 2016 season was over and his 2017 one was in doubt. But as he tells Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann on The Ringer MLB Show, Maness decided to undergo an experimental primary repair surgery, which has a much shorter recovery time, and he has returned to the field this season.

Here’s how he got the diagnosis:

"I went on the DL the second time and saw the team doctor, and he told me I needed Tommy John surgery," Maness began. "And [he] talked me through that and so I went and got a second opinion, and that’s when I saw Dr. George Paletta in St. Louis, who is now their team physician, and he told me, yes, I needed something done, but he [told me] I could qualify for the primary repair surgery. They can only do that surgery if the ligament is still intact."

It wasn’t clear that Maness’s ligament was intact, though. The surgeon wouldn’t know until he got Maness in the operating room.

"It was a game-time decision when I went into surgery. I didn’t know if I was going to be getting Tommy John or primary repair, but I told them I would much rather have the primary repair. Because [Paletta] told me the recovery time was close to half of that of the regular Tommy John [surgery], and I was all for it because, really, the rehab wasn’t something I was looking forward to. That much time off the field puts a lot of things into question for me, and so I told them I’d rather be on the field as soon as possible. [Then] I came to from surgery, and he told me he was able to perform the primary repair, and here we are."

Maness was released by his team, the Cardinals, in December. While he was undergoing rehab, he needed to find a new club to play ball with. But his surgery was coded in MLB’s injury system as a Tommy John because primary repair is so rare, so teams thought he’d be out for 2017.

"I don’t think teams [knew I would be back]. It was coded as Tommy John, so most people chalked me off for this year. And I was having my agent reach out and we held a little scout day for some to come and watch in the middle of January. … [We hoped] somebody would roll the dice and take a shot, and fortunately it worked out with the Royals."

He’s not back to his peak form just yet — he’s pitched just three innings so far this season since debuting on May 13 — but he’s progressing.

"I’m still building up [strength]. There’s a little more there I haven’t tapped into yet. But each week I feel a little better; [it’s] just a gradual process. But it’s feeling pretty good, a lot better than it was last year. I feel like the velocity is back to what it was, a lot better than it was last year when I was hurt. So that’s a positive and hopefully it keeps getting stronger."

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.