Reservoir senior pitcher Cody Morris told his team that he will have Tommy John surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow as the Gators prepared to defend their 3A state baseball championship.
Morris said he was told he needed the surgery by Dr. Timothy Kremchek, medical director for the Cincinnati Reds and a special adviser to Morris.
"He was like ... "Your UCL is completely ruptured.' He got opinions from other people, other doctors, and he said, 'You need (Tommy John),'" said Morris, a three-time Howard County Pitcher of the Year. "I found that out about a week ago."
The next day at practice Morris told his teammates he wouldn't be able to pitch again this spring as they prepare to play Howard County champion Mt. Hebron for the 3A East regional championship on Friday.
"He's handling it very maturely," coach Adam Leader said. "A lot of people would have shied away from the game and been upset, but he's not that type of kid."
Morris is scheduled to undergo Tommy John surgery with Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Fla., on June 2, a little more than a week after the 3A state championship game, and one week before the Major League Baseball draft.
"I don't know what's going to happen with the draft, all I know is that ... I won't be getting what I was initially going to be asking for," said Morris, who has signed a national letter of intent with the University of South Carolina. "I'm just preparing for college and hopefully they can rehab me down there, but if it works out that I get drafted for a reasonable dollar figure then it would be good to get rehabbed by a major league club."
Once Morris enrolls as a student at South Carolina, he won't be eligible to sign a professional contract for three years.
"Hopefully I'll recover, I'll get a medical redshirt and be able to pitch by my redshirt freshman and sophomore year and be able to sign a professional contract after my third year there," he said.
Morris, who is 6 feet 4, 200 pounds, first noticed persistent pain in February.
"I don't know when I tore it because I never had any of the symptoms: the tingling in my fingers or the numbness in my arm or anything. So honestly I think I tore it in February because that's when it started hurting," he said. "I took some time off in February because I thought it was just tendinitis, and then I started throwing again and it still hurt."
After MRI results came back clean, it was determined that Morris was dealing with tendinitis.
"I said, 'It's just tendinitis, I'm just going to throw through it, and I was hoping it would just get better," he said.
Morris' first game for Reservoir since throwing a complete-game, two-hit shut out in last year's 3A state championship game was at Hammond on March 25 in front of a small group of professional baseball scouts. He was perfect through three innings, retiring the Golden Bears' lineup on 35 pitches with seven strikeouts, before moving to first base.
"I was fine, but it hurt a little bit, and my forearm was really tight," he said. "It was just a weird feeling -- soreness like I had never felt before."
One week later Morris pitched during a shutout of North County, then took the mound against Glenelg on April 11 for what proved to be his final start.
Against Glenelg, Morris allowed a first-inning unearned run on back-to-back singles, but got through five innings without allowing another hit the rest of the way. The Gators scored twice in the bottom of the sixth to win, 2-1, but Morris knew something was wrong.
"I threw against Glenelg, and I was in tears it hurt so bad," said Morris, who has continued to contribute at designated hitter as one of the Gators' best hitters. "After that I said, 'I can't throw, there's got to be something else wrong.' So I took some time off again, and obviously I haven't pitched since."
Another MRI, using contrast dye, came back clean, but Morris knew his arm wasn't right. That's when the results were sent to Kremchek, who found the torn ulnar collateral ligament.
"It was kind of shocking news because I didn't pitch all last fall. I threw only 90 innings all year," Morris said. "I was super careful. I took care of my arm and I took pretty much every precaution to prevent this, and it still happened.
"It was shocking, but that's the way it goes -- and we're going to get this surgery done and start recovering."
Tommy John surgery got its name from the former major league pitcher whose arm was repaired by Los Angeles Dodgers team physician Dr. Frank Jobe in 1974. Morris and his family chose to go with Dr. James Andrews, an orthopedic surgeon known for his success at repairing the ligament damage.
New York Mets ace Matt Harvey underwent Tommy John surgery — a procedure in which the ulnar collateral ligament in the throwing elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body — in 2013 and is pitching with the Mets after sitting out all of 2014. He is one of many examples of the procedure's success.
"With my arm and hopefully what I have in the future, it just makes sense for me to get it with Dr. Andrews," Morris said. "It can help me later when I sign a professional contract. I can potentially get more money having an Andrews elbow over someone else that didn't have an Andrews elbow, just because of the reputation he has. It just makes sense."
In 2013, one-third of Major League Baseball starting pitchers had undergone Tommy John surgery, according to Bleacher Report.
"I think a lot of people will get it at some point in their career, I think it's just bad timing for me," said Morris, who compiled 22 wins, more than 250 strikeouts and an ERA under 1.00 in his high school career. "I'm so young, and it's right before the draft. I'm not totally disappointed about getting (the procedure), because it happens. But the timing definitely disappointed me for sure ... I've got to think positive."
Morris said South Carolina coach Chad Holbrook and his staff have been supportive. Less than a month ago, South Carolina sophomore ace Wil Crowe underwent Tommy John surgery with Dr. Andrews, sidelining him for the rest of this season and likely all of next season.
"They were obviously disappointed and upset, but they understood and they were there for me, and they're doing everything they can to help me out and get me on the path to recovery," Morris said. "It's pretty unfortunate for them too because they lost (Crowe) to Tommy John just a few weeks ago."
Reservoir coach Leader expressed concern about the emotional test for Morris after finding out about the surgery.
"My first reaction was that I wasn't upset for us as a team," he said. "I was more worried about how he was going to handle it emotionally. He's still got an amazing future in front of him and this is just a bump in the road. I told him he's still a major part of this team."
Morris drove in two runs on a single and double in Monday's win over Wilde Lake, and had two hits in a 1-0 playoff win over Glenelg on Wednesday.
"I'm just extremely thankful that I don't have pain swinging or anything, so I can at least be a part of the team and be able to contribute," Morris said. "That makes me really happy that I can do something."