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Homer Bailey to miss 4-6 weeks after surgery to remove bone chips in elbow

MLB: Miami Marlins at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Pitchers and catchers don’t report until next week, but the Cincinnati Reds have already received some bad news regarding their highest-paid arm:

Bailey, 30, hasn’t pitched a full season since 2013, and has pitched just 34.1 innings combined in the last two seasons. The coming season will be the fourth year of the six year, $105 million deal he signed following the 2013 season, during which he posted a career-best 3.2 bWAR with a 3.49 ERA in 209 innings.

The right-handed owner of two no-hitters underwent Tommy John surgery in May of 2015, and returned to the mound for the first time on July 31st, 2016, when he pitched 5.2 innings of two-run, four-hit baseball at San Diego. For the season, Bailey posted a 6.65 ERA in six starts, but held a promising 3.10 FIP in the same timeframe, bolstered by 27 strikeouts and seven walks in 23 innings. The sample was extremely small, but the latter portion of that sentence was something that showed promise to Reds fans that the guy who was once heralded as a future ace still had a promising arm that could settle in nicely in the middle of a solid rotation.

The positive takeaway, if there is any, is that surgeries to remove bone chips are fairly non-invasive, don’t require a ton of recovery time, and don’t typically come with lingering concerns about structural damage the way Tommy John does. It would have been much more convenient to see this carried out back in December or early January, but that moment has past.

The negatives, meanwhile, are a little more obvious. The Reds are once again a man down in their pitching staff before Spring Training even begins, and it’s someone whose spring was supposed to be able to tell us a lot about what kind of pitcher he might be in 2017. The 4-6 week recovery time should put him back in the rotation around mid-April, but he’s still missing valuable innings that the rest of the staff gets to put in while he continues to watch from the bench.

The non-baseball negative is the fatigue that Reds fans have gotten watching Bailey face so many setbacks. It’s not fair to imply there’s any fault on his part, but the Reds have been roundly criticized from fans and radio crew alike for the contract they signed him to since the day it was made public, and seeing Bailey pitch so little under that hefty deal has been difficult for everyone to go through.

Still, Bailey won’t turn 31 until May, and if barring anymore unforeseen complications with his elbow, he’s remains the kind of pitcher who should be a dependable, league average starter throughout the remainder of his contract. This is unfortunate news, but with any twist of luck, it will be long-forgotten come the first quarter mark of the season.