All during the offseason, New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman worried about James Paxton's back pain and kept suggesting: “Let's just get the surgery out of the way. We're losing time.”
Paxton was examined by three doctors, who said the issue could resolve itself.
“They all came to the same conclusion: No, no, no,” Cashman recalled.
But Paxton did not get better and finally had the operation Wednesday. He is expected to be sidelined until May or June.
New York said Dr. Andrew Dossett in Dallas performed a microscopic lumbar discectomy, in which a herniated disk is repaired, and removed a peridiscal cyst. The Yankees estimated Paxton will be able to start throwing in about six weeks and could pitch in a major league game in three-to-four months.
Paxton left his final regular-season start, at Texas on Sept. 27, after one inning with what the Yankees said was a tight left glute muscle. That ended Paxton's career-best streak of victories in 10 consecutive starts.
Paxton was examined then by Yankees head team physician Dr. Christopher Ahmad and Rangers physician Dr. Keith Meister, and the pitcher received an injection of painkiller. Paxton went 1-0 with a 3.46 ERA in three postseason starts, allowing five runs in 13 innings.
“It did resolve. He pitched extremely well, especially in Houston,” Cashman said. “But when he started ramping up his winter program about four weeks or so ago, he started feeling symptoms again.”
Paxton was examined by Dossett, received a new round of injections and was told to see how he felt in three weeks.
“It turned out clearly that that did not resolve the problem, so surgical intervention then was the last resort,” Cashman said.
Paxton's injury weakens a Yankees rotation already missing right-hander Domingo Germán, who must serve the final 63 games of an 81-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. He is eligible to return June 5, barring any postponements.
After agreeing to a $324 million, nine-year contract, right-hander Gerrit Cole heads a rotation that includes righties Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka and lefty J.A. Happ.
Lefty Jordan Montgomery, who returned in September from Tommy John surgery, is a candidate to replace Paxton in the rotation at the start of the season along with right-handers Luis Cessa,and Jonathan Loaisiga and rookies Deivi Garcia and Michael King. Cashman said combined bullpen efforts also was an option.
“Things always happen, so the more arms you have the better,” Montgomery said Monday at the Yankees' minor league complex in Tampa, Florida. “I’ve got to be ready.”
Paxton's injury is the second for the Yankees, who start spring training next week. Switch-hitting center fielder Aaron Hicks is not expected back until June or July following Tommy John surgery on his right elbow on Oct. 31.
New York placed a big league record 30 players on the injured list a total of 39 times last season, then overhauled its training and conditioning staff.
A 31-year-old left-hander, Paxton was a career-best 15-6 with a 3.82 ERA last season. He was 5-6 in July but started to reduce his percentage of fastballs and went on his streak.
He agreed last month to a $12.5 million, one-year contract and is eligible for free agency after the season.
Freelance writer Mark Didtler contributed to this report.