29th of Jun | Story

Fully mended


ROME, Georgia | Ask Navery Moore about what happened back on March 30 and he opens up, no reservations, all story and memory and dangling arm.

He had worked through six innings and was into his seventh when he fired a pitch and felt a tweak in his right elbow. “That didn’t feel right,” he remembers thinking to himself. He stepped off the mound, gathered himself, then stepped back on and fired another pitch. “I thought maybe it was nothing,” he says. It was something, though. His coaches walked out of the dugout and asked him what had happened. He remembers telling them, “I can’t throw.”

Moore had ripped his ulnar collateral ligament, an injury seemingly more common every season among pitchers all around baseball. Not long after that game, he lay on an operating table in Nashville as Dr. Damon H. Petty cut him open and wound another ligament through holes drilled in the ulna and humerus bones near his right elbow, the famous Tommy John Surgery.

Moore is back on the mound now, 22 and in his first professional season with the Rome Braves of the Low-A South Atlantic League, long recovered from that surgery.

Long recovered because his ligament ripped on March 30, 2007. 

Long recovered because Moore was 16.


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When Dr. Frank W. Jobe cut open Tommy John back in 1974, ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction and its success were unknown and unmeasurable entities. John was already 31 years old with a dozen seasons, 124 wins and more than 2,000 Major League innings on the back of his baseball card. He was a good pitcher, but if he failed to at least return to a Major League rotation, the surgery might have drifted off, little more than a footnote, forgotten.

John did not fail. He missed all of the 1975 season in order to rehab his left arm, then returned to the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation in 1976, and earned 10 wins without missing a start. During the four seasons after that, he picked up 80 more wins — in his mid and late 30s — pitched more than 1,000 innings, including playoffs, and finished eighth or better in the league Cy Young Award vote every season. He wound up with more wins and innings after his surgery than before. He pitched until he was 46.

“Big leaguers, they say it’s a two-year swing to getting your stuff back to where it was. They’re polished. When you’re young, you’re not developed as a pitcher, you’re just throwing, you don’t have that foundation set. For me, it was basically like I was starting over. It was a big learning experience for me.” — Rome pitcher Navery Moore

“Big leaguers, they say it’s a two-year swing to getting your stuff back to where it was,” Moore says. “They’re polished. When you’re young, you’re not developed as a pitcher, you’re just throwing, you don’t have that foundation set.

“For me, it was basically like I was starting over. It was a big learning experience for me.”

That March 30 start was the first for Moore during his junior year at Battle Ground Academy, in Franklin, Tennessee. He missed the rest of the year and part of his senior year. Even after he returned, he spent more time at second and third for the Wildcats than on the mound. He graduated, landed at Vanderbilt — a commitment he made before his surgery and a commitment both he and the Commodores honored — and pitched three good seasons.

“It was mainly just developing my curveball during my first couple years at Vanderbilt,” Moore says. “I didn’t really throw a curveball, just because I didn’t have a feel for it. It was just a matter of time, getting a feel for a breaking pitch. That was hard for me early on. It took time and repetition to get that feel back.”

The Atlanta Braves selected Moore in the 14th round of the draft last season, Tommy John Surgery on young elbows no longer a deterrent for teams. In Rome, he shows no signs of tear, splitting time between the rotation and the bullpen to limit his innings during his transition to the minors, leading the team in wins, earning a spot on the league all-star team.

Around the same time Moore underwent his reconstructive surgery, though, an increasing number of young pitchers turned to Tommy John Surgery as some sort of solution. They might not need the surgery, but with a success rate of somewhere between 80 and 85 percent, and the promise of increased velocity, why not try it? Almost all surgeons warn against what can only be called Cosmetic Tommy John Surgery.

“It seems like the age keeps getting younger and younger every year with guys getting it, maybe not because they’re hurt, but because they want to throw harder and get that edge on other people,” Moore says. “I haven’t met anybody who’s done that.

“It’s not a cheap surgery. It’s not something that you can just say, ‘Hey, let’s see what it does.’ It’s bad that it’s come to this, but guys are trying it just to get an edge.”

Moore needed the surgery not for an edge, but to recover and return to the field. 

All signs point to a successful career — and a teenage risk alleviated.


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What will happen to Moore after this season? Based on his early performance — a 7-3 record, a 3.90 ERA, a 1.25 WHIP, nearly two strikeouts to every walk and a solid climb to right around 100 innings — he could head up next season to the Lynchburg Hillcats of the High-A Carolina League. He could impress enough of the right folks during spring training and jump to the Mississippi Braves of the Double-A Southern League. He could regress and return to Rome.

There are plenty of factors, though, in Moore’s favor. He is young, with a strong arm and fewer innings on that arm than most pitchers his age — both thanks to the surgery. He is also smart on the mound, already more a pitcher than a thrower. Listen to him talk about attacking hitters early, about mixing pitches, about pitching philosophy, and he sounds so much older than 22.

His manager in Rome, Randy Ingle, a veteran of more than three decades in the minors, says Moore is “definitely making progress each time out.” And he says one other thing, too. It goes back to that intelligence — to handle serious injuries, recovery and rehab, hitters in the minors, on and on.

“Shoot,” Ingle says. “He knows how to pitch.”

Matt@AMinorLeagueSeason.com ♦ @MattLaWell ♦ @AMinorLgSeason

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