Bradley to miss 2002 season

By John Perrotto
October 25, 2001

PITTSBURGH–The Pittsburgh Pirates’ top pitching prospect is a week removed from the most complicated arm surgery of all. Yet, he couldn’t feel better about his career.

Righthander Bobby Bradley, who pitched at Class A Lynchburg this year, underwent reconstructive surgery on his pitching elbow Oct. 18. Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery in Birmingham, Ala.

Though the operation will force Bradley to miss the entire 2002 season, the 20-year-old is already looking ahead to the future and showing the self-assuredness that has set him apart on the mound.

“My whole focus now is getting ready for 2003,” Bradley said Thursday. “I’m looking forward to getting back on the mound then and working on getting to the major leagues. My dream is still to pitch in the big leagues, and it won’t take me long once I’m healthy.”

It won’t be quite that easy, of course. Bradley has a long rehabilitation process ahead. However, he figures it can’t be any worse than what he experienced for the last year and a half.

“I was in constant pain for 17 months before the surgery,” said Bradley, the Pirates’ first-round draft pick in 1999 from Wellington (Fla.) Community High. “It wasn’t only pitching that caused my arm to hurt. Everything I did caused pain–eating, brushing my teeth, you name it. I could just stand around and it would hurt.”

Bradley figures the ligament was torn during on May 29, 2000, while pitching for low Class A Hickory against Delmarva in a South Atlantic League game. He pitched only four more times after that, finishing the season 8-2, 2.29 in 14 starts and 83 innings.

“I had never had a sore arm in my life,” Bradley said. “I didn’t think it was a big deal.”

However, the pain never stopped. Bradley pitched for the Pirates in two major league exhibition games this spring and then made nine starts for Lynchburg, going 1-2, 3.12 in nine starts and 49 innings before going on the disabled list.

“I was spending 25-30 hours in the trainer’s room at Lynchburg,” Bradley said. “I really felt it was something that would eventually go away in time–at least I guess that’s what I hoped would happen.”

Bradley underwent exploratory arthroscopic elbow surgery in early July, but no major damage was found. When he began throwing in the Florida Instructional League last month, the pain was still there, but a nerve conduction test and an MRI revealed no damage.

“It was very frustrating because I knew I was hurting, but nobody could find anything wrong,” Bradley said.

Andrews decided to operate on Bradley last week to see if he could find anything. Sure enough, Bradley had a torn ligament, and Andrews reconstructed it.

“As it turned out, I tore the ligament in May 2000, but it kept scarring up, and the scar tissue kept the doctors from seeing anything on the MRIs,” Bradley said. “In essence, I tore the ligament countless times over the last two years, and it kept healing. It’s kind of scary when you think about it, and it’s hard to believe I was able to pitch with it for as long as I did.”

Bradley won’t be pitching anytime soon, but he figures his elbow has a new warranty.

“My first elbow lasted me 20 years and served me well,” Bradley said. “Now, I’m counting on this elbow to last me 20 years. If that happens, I’ll be able to enjoy a long career.”