And so it starts for the San Diego Padres.
About a week before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, the Padres learned that left-handed pitcher Cory Luebke, who missed all of the 2013 season following Tommy John-type elbow surgery, will miss all of 2014 with a do-over.
Luebke, 28, who had an elbow-ligament replacement in May 2012, was expected to open the season in the bullpen and work his way back into the rotation. Instead, Luebke continued to feel discomfort in the elbow and suffered setbacks whenever he tried to increase the intensity of his workouts.
An MRI last week showed that there was a tear in the transplanted ligament. Luebke said he'll try to schedule surgery as soon as possible.
This is a blow for a Padres team that has had a devastating array of injuries over the past two seasons, including a handful of pitchers needing Tommy John surgery. Some pundits tab the Padres as the dark-horse in the National League West in 2014, but for that to happen they must stay relatively healthy.
Luebke was just establishing himself as the team's top-of-the-rotation left-hander in early 2012 -- and had signed a multiyear contract -- when he was injured. Luebke told MLB.com that he had the feeling something wasn't right as he tried to throw in more game-like conditions.
"I guess the general consensus was the graft never took and that there were some problems from the get-go," Luebke said. "Kind of the way the process has gone … the stops and starts, and every time we turned up the volume and intensity, it was never too long before we had a setback. That sort of let me know there's something going on.
"My gut feeling through the rehab process was this didn't seem right. And when we did the MRI, it was pretty clear what was going on."
"We're not going to wait around too long," Luebke said. "We're now in the process of getting Dr. (James) Andrews all the info right now, getting him the notes. As soon as we hear from him, we'll get something scheduled."
Padres General Manager Josh Byrnes said the team was hopeful of having Luebke back, but that he wasn't penciled into the rotation yet. "It's disappointing. I feel bad for him," Byrnes told UT San Diego.
As for 2014, Byrnes said, "We have a lot of depth. We finished the year with six starters and added Josh Johnson. I think having Cory return wasn't as much about quality as about depth. ... Obviously, the way Cory pitched before the injury was at a very high level."
Luebke has made 55 career appearances, 25 starts. He has a 10-12 record, a 3.25 earned run average and has averaged more than a strikeout an inning. He had won three in a row in April 2012 when he was injured.
Without Luebke, the rotation features right-handers Johnson (a former All-Star coming off surgery), Andrew Cashner, Ian Kennedy, Tyson Ross and left-hander Eric Stults, with prospects Burch Smith and Robbie Erlin hoping for a shot.
Luebke doesn't figure to be available until mid-2015.