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Free agent Maness nearing quick return after radical elbow surgery

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Could Seth Maness be the new Tommy John?

No one knows for sure just yet, but the former St. Louis Cardinals reliever could be headed in that direction. Maness, now a free agent, is only one week away from returning to the mound after undergoing a potentially groundbreaking elbow procedure known as “primary repair” just seven months ago.

Tommy John surgery – a procedure to reconstruct the elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament that once revolutionized baseball – often sidelines pitchers for a year or longer. Doctors believe primary repair, which directly repairs the ligament and supports healing with an internal brace, could cut that rehab time in half.

Dr. George Paletta, the Cardinals’ head orthopedic surgeon who pioneered primary repair and performed it on Maness, told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that “it has that potential” to be revolutionary for baseball, like Tommy John was over 40 years ago.

“People are watching this and it’s an interesting thing for all of us,” Dr. Jeffrey Dugas of the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., told Goold. “There is a lot that we need to learn from Seth, a lot that we need to learn from all of the guys (who have had it). We need the data. There are still so many hurdles to go over, but we’re excited to watch what is going to happen because of what is possible.”

Maness, one of the Cardinals’ most reliable relievers during his first three seasons in the majors, struggled in 2016 before being shut down Aug. 13 and undergoing the surgery five days later. The 28-year-old expected to receive Tommy John, but Paletta offered primary repair as a potential alternative; when the doctor opened Maness’ elbow, he decided on the spot that primary repair was the best option.

The condition of the tissue and the location of the tear determines whether primary repair is possible – a UCL tear at either end of the ligament can potentially be addressed with the new procedure, but a tear in the middle still requires Tommy John.

Maness was cleared to throw three weeks ago – months faster than most Tommy John patients are cleared after their surgery – and he recently completed a truncated four-week long-toss program; he’s already anticipating being ready to go for Opening Day. It’s too early to know if any teams are interested in signing him, but if all goes well, he could emerge as both a pioneer and a key early-season pickup for a team in need of relief help.

“Everyone in baseball should be following this,” Jeff Berry, Maness’ agent, said. “He was an outstanding major-league reliever. He was hurt in 2016, was never right. He has this surgery and he needed the ligament repaired, but he’ll be ready for spring training, not out for the entire season. Imagine that.

“Think about the economic impact that has for the game. Think about what it means to his career.”

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