They are the three most dreaded words in baseball: "Tommy John surgery." The mere mention of the name means 14-18 months of rehab, and arguably, for a starting pitcher, their career will never be the same again.
Those were the words whispered into the ear of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly when he arrived at Dodger Stadium early Monday morning.
"It's not very good news," he told the media before the game when McCarthy's name was mentioned. "Brandon being out for the year is different than someone who's going to be on the DL for a couple weeks, then coming back."
McCarthy was cemented as the Dodgers third starter before being told he had torn the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. McCarthy was 3-0 with a 5.87 ERA in four starts on the season.
McCarthy injured the elbow in the second inning of the Dodgers 11-8 victory over the San Diego Padres on Saturday. Remarkably, McCarthy felt the pain in his elbow early in the game, but chose to pitch through it, rather than force Mattingly to use the bullpen so prematurely.
"Early on it really started to hurt," said McCarthy. "My stuff was diminishing and the pain was increasing. I should have probably called it in the second, but I didn't and it was pretty stupid in hindsight."
The news that McCarthy had torn his UCL was a shock to the Dodgers organization as many believed, including McCarthy himself, that the diagnosis would be elbow tendinitis that would keep McCarthy off the mound for a few weeks. With Tommy John surgery likely, McCarthy will be out for most of the 2016 season as well.
"I don't want to stretch it out for several months and waste everyone's time," said McCarthy of the inevitability of the surgery. "If this is what we need to get done, we're going to get it done and done soon."
The injury to McCarthy now appears to be a giant black mark on the resume of new Dodgers president of baseball operations, Andrew Friedman. Friedman signed McCarthy as a free agent soon after taking over the position in what many around the league considered a risky move considering McCarthy's history of shoulder issues.
"He never had had an elbow injury, so this falls into 'This happening to anyone' category," Friedman told the media in a press conference before the game. "His elbow looked healthy in an MRI before signing him and it looked like a healthy elbow. This happens to pitchers. They get hurt and you have to act accordingly."
Friedman traded away starting pitchers Dan Haren and Andrew Heaney before the season making the decision to sign McCarthy to a four-year $48 million deal all the more mind boggling.
"My immediate thoughts went to Brandon, then I took a deep breath and try to figure out where we go from here," added Friedman.
The future of the Dodgers starting rotation does seem cloudy after the 1-2 punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke. Third pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu is on the shelf until late-May or early June, Brett Anderson has a history of injury problems and beyond those names is one giant question mark.
"Scott Baker will stay here for now," Mattingly told the media. "We’ve already seen a number of guys in the fifth spot, and we have guys who have thrown the ball well. Someone just has to step forward, and pitch well."
That someone most likely will come from Triple-A Oklahoma City where there are a bevy of pitching options to take over for McCarthy. Joe Wieland (2-0 3.00 ERA) is an option, as is top 100 prospect Zach Lee (3-0 0.95 ERA). Brandon Beachy returns from his own Tommy John surgery in late June and David Huff and Mike Bolsinger who made spot starts already are also in the mix.
Regardless of who takes over in the rotation for McCarthy, it will be interesting to see how the Dodgers rebound from this.