Early during last season, Garrett Richards suffered a partial tear to his elbow ligament. The ace of the Los Angeles Angels immediately expected he would miss two years of his pitching career.
Richards thought he would need Tommy John surgery to repair the tear. On Thursday, he recalled last season after the injury that all he wanted was to get the surgery over with and start rehab.
Instead, this week Richards was able to throw his first spring training bullpen session in Tempe. The talented right-hander will head into the 2017 season with big optimism over his full health without having the Tommy John surgery to replace his elbow ligament.
Richard as well as the Angel’s organizations believes a combination of injections of platelet-rich plasma and stem cell therapy healed the ligament sufficiently to start his career again with very minimal restrictions.
Richards is not the only player to use either of the two treatments, but might be the game’s highest profile pitcher to avoid that famed surgery named after the former Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw. The surgery has saved many pitching arms.
Richards hopes that after apparently having success with the treatment combination that still remains unusual, other pitchers who suffer elbow problems will give consideration to all possible paths back to pitching in the big leagues.
Richards had the time to look into alternatives due to when he was injured. He was hurt during May of 2016. The estimated time to recover from Tommy John surgery is 18 months which would mean late 2017 which would be still months before the 2018 season would start.
With the time available, Richards was able to learn more about the stem-cell treatment. With that new knowledge in hand, he decided to try it out.
Stem cells were extracted from the marrow of his pelvic bone and then injected into his elbow.
Following rest for 10 days, Richards said that his elbow felt completely normal, although he did not exercise it with any type of throwing motion.
Following time last fall in the instructional league he underwent platelet-rich plasma injections that put what he called the icing on the cake.
Although the last five months of his season in 2016 were lost, his return is still considered remarkably quick.
The team is cautiously optimistic Richards will return to the form he had when he won 28 games between 2014 and 2015, throwing 376 innings.