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Twins starter Tyler Mahle set to undergo Tommy John surgery

The Minnesota righty, acquired last year at the trade deadline, had been on the IL with elbow discomfort.

Tyler Mahle of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the Kansas City Royals in the third inning at Target Field on April 27, 2023 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

What was initially framed as minor discomfort has gone from bad to worse to the worst-case scenario for the Minnesota Twins and starter Tyler Mahle:

The righty was removed from his start against the Kansas City Royals back in late April after showing notably diminished velocity on his fastball. Mahle insisted he wasn’t too concerned in the immediate aftermath, but an MRI revealed an impingement in his elbow that would require him to be shut down for several weeks. It seemed clear that even that timeframe was overly optimistic when the team transferred him from the 15-day IL to the 60-day last week, and after a second opinion in recent days, doctors apparently determined that surgery was the best option.

It’s certainly not what the Twins hoped for when they shipped three prospects — including current Minor League standout Christian Encarnacion-Strand — to the Cincinnati Reds in a deal for Mahle at last year’s trade deadline. You can certainly understand what Minnesota was thinking, as the righty had put up a 3.72 ERA and 10.7 K/9 in 2020-2021 despite dealing with terrible pitcher’s park in Cincy. And Mahle has lived up to the billing when he’s been able to take the mound — that just hasn’t happened nearly often enough in a Twins uniform.

Mahle was able to make just four starts for his new team last year before shoulder fatigue prematurely ended his season. He entered 2023 looking like his old self, with his fastball back in the mid-90s and a new and improved slider, and he pitched to a 3.16 ERA while averaging over a strikeout per inning over his first five starts of the year. Now, though, he’ll be out until at least late 2024, and it’s unclear if he’ll be able to pitch next year at all.

All of which puts his future with the Twins in doubt. Mahle was set to become a free agent after this season, and while Minnesota has been willing to invest in injured arms before — just look at the extension they gave to Chris Paddack while the righty was in the midst of his own TJ rehab — it’s unclear whether they’d consider doing the same for Mahle. If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that the team isn’t hurting for starting pitching depth, as both Bailey Ober and Louie Varland have filled in ably in the back of Minnesota’s rotation while Mahle and Kenta Maeda (still on the IL with his own elbow trouble) have been out.