TORONTO – Soreness is a fact of life for big-league pitchers, especially heavily used relievers, who must perform when not feeling at their best to cope with the demands of the job.
Ryan Tepera learned all about that last year when he logged 77.2 innings over 73 games for the Toronto Blue Jays, emerging into their most reliable set-up man. There’s a difference between soreness that’s normal and pain that is not, which is why he went on the disabled list Saturday with inflammation in his right elbow.
The 30-year-old first experienced what he described as lingering soreness "more on the inside of the right elbow" after pitching last Sunday in Anaheim, and felt it again after throwing in Houston on Wednesday, following two days of treatment and rest.
Both because of the location of the soreness – elbow issues immediately invoke thoughts of Tommy John surgery – and its persistence, caution became a priority. Tepera said he hasn’t had an MRI and doesn’t have plans to see a specialist, and for now the plan is to give his elbow a diet of treatment and rest.
"It didn’t really bother me when I was throwing, it was more of a recovery thing. I was able to still go out and throw like I should," said Tepera, adding later: "They’ve done some strengthening tests – everything has checked out so far. As far as the area it is, it is concerning. But the tests, all that came back good, so all we can do is take it day-to-day."
His loss is yet more flux for a bullpen that’s already had to absorb the ongoing absence of closer Roberto Osuna, who is serving a 75-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s joint domestic violence policy in the wake of his May 8 arrest and charge of assaulting a woman.
Tyler Clippard closed out Friday’s 3-2 win over the Detroit Tigers but manager John Gibbons didn’t commit to him being the sole guy in the ninth, joking about trying to get everyone in the bullpen a save and making decisions based on "however the coin turns up."
Suenghwan Oh is the other leading candidate but Gibbons also noted that "one thing we like about Oh is that if the starter is in there or some other reliever and they get in a little jam, he can come in and you know he’s going to throw strikes."
Jake Petricka was recalled from triple-A Buffalo to cover for Tepera, who for now doesn’t have a timeline for a return from his first trip to the disabled list.
"I’ve prided myself on never going on the DL and always trying to pitch through some soreness and a little bit of hurt here and there," he said. "You’re not always going to be 100 per cent. It’s never good timing and now it’s definitely not, but it’s something I’ve got to deal with."
Tepera gave up a game-tying RBI double in the eighth inning last Sunday in Anahaim before throwing a clean ninth, while in Houston he surrendered a walk-off two-run homer to Alex Bregman. He said the elbow didn’t impact him on the mound, only in recovery.
"The velocity has been fine, I haven’t noticed a dip in velocity at all," Tepera said. "Here and there I would feel a little bit of an inconsistent release point, especially warming up in the bullpen. Once I got in the heat of the moment in the game, I never really noticed anything."