Yankees: Paxton surgery explained and spring training to decide the fifth Yankee starter

New York Yankees, James Paxton
Apr 16, 2019; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher James Paxton (65) reacts during the fourth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After New York Yankee’s General Manager Brian Cashman announced that the fifth starter for the Yankee rotation would be J.A. Happ, the rotation seemed to be set.  However, upon the notification that James Paxton underwent surgery for a Discectomy with the removal of a periodical cyst, it opened up what some see as an open competition for the last spot in the rotation.    J.A. Happ will undoubtedly be moved up to fourth in the rotation.

The Paxton surgery is best described by USCspine.com: Microdiscectomy, also called Microlumbar Discectomy (MLD), is performed for patients with a painful lumbar herniated disc. Microdiscectomy is a very common, if not the most common, surgery performed by spine surgeons. The operation consists of removing a portion of the intervertebral disc, the herniated or protruding portion that is compressing the traversing spinal nerve root.  A 1-2 centimeter longitudinal incision is made in the midline of the low back, directly over the area of the herniated disc.  A few millimeters of the bone of the superior lamina may be removed to fully visualize the disc herniation. The nerve root and neurologic structures are protected and carefully retracted so that the herniated disc can be removed.  Paxton also had rare cyst removal.

USCspine reports:  Patients may return to heavy work and sports as early as 4-6 weeks after surgery if the surgical pain has subsided and the back strength has returned appropriately with physical therapy.  Because of the demands caused by the twisting and strain on the back, pitchers like Paxton usually can’t return to pitching earlier than 12 weeks.   So fans will likely not see Paxton on the mound until just before the All-Star Game at the earliest.

Before Happ’s appointment to be the fifth starter, it seemed to be a competition between him and Jordan Montgomery, who didn’t pitch last year as he recovered from his June 2018 Tommy John surgery.  It’s been quite a long time since he has pitched, and many may not recall how good he was as a rookie in 2017.  He was 9-7 with a 3.86 ERA and 144 K’s in 29 games started and finished sixth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.  In 2018 before the surgery, he was 2-0 in 27 innings pitched.  It would seem that he deserves the position, but spring training will determine if he gets it.

Other contenders for that fifth spot are starter Jonathan Loaisiga, prospect Deivi Garcia, and mid-reliever Luis Cessa.  The 25-year-old Loaisiga in his short career is 4-2.  Last year he started four games for the Yankees and relieved for a total of 31.2 innings.  MLB.com projects he will pitch this year with an even number of wins and losses probably due to his higher than average ERA.   Loaisiga is nasty when he’s on.  Garcia is untested in the majors, and so far in the minors, he seems to tire as he pitches.  Cessa has been a reliable short and long reliever.  In 2019 he appeared in 43 games as a reliever or opener for a 2-1 record and an ERA of 4.11.  These writers guess is that unless there are some unforeseen surprises in spring training, that fifth spot will be Jordan Montgomerys to lose.