Scary offseason for Red Sox reliever Bobby Jenks
FORT MYERS, Fla.—If Bobby Jenks' first season with the Boston Red Sox was difficult, his offseason was worse.
In 2011, the first of a two-year, $12 million contract with Boston, Jenks was limited by several ailments, including a right biceps strain, left back tightness, and a pulmonary embolism. He finished with just 19 appearances, 15 2-3 innings, a record of 2-2 and an ERA of 6.32.
He was scheduled for offseason surgery on his back, but had to wait for the embolism to clear on its own before he could do so.
Jenks then had the surgery on his back at Massachusetts General Hospital on Dec. 12. But serious complications from that procedure led to an emergency follow-up surgery on Dec. 30 in Scottsdale, Ariz., near his home.
"Obviously," Jenks said, "my winter didn't go very well."
Jenks is not certain what went wrong in the first surgery, but a potentially life-threatening infection developed.
Fortunately, he's back in camp with the Red Sox, and eager to move forward.
But it hasn't been an easy road.
"I don't know whose fault it was, but there was an error done inside," said Jenks, who had four bone spurs on his spine and doctors hoped to take the top two out. "The third one was started and not finished. So basically, there was like an edge, and it sliced me open in two different spots, and I was leaking spinal fluid and it just pulled up the bottom of my incision and kind of blew up on me, which caused an infection.
"It was just a combination of everything that could have gone wrong went wrong."
Jenks, who turns 31 on March 14, had the first surgery on Dec. 12 and stayed in Boston for about 10 days to recover, before flying home to Arizona. It was on Dec. 28 when he started to feel ill. He noticed, in fact, the incision was leaking. He watched it for a couple of days, but after experiencing "excruciating" headaches, he had it checked on the morning of Dec. 30.
He had the second procedure that afternoon.
"If I didn't have it done immediately, the infection could have gotten into my spinal fluid and into my brain," he said. "Who knows what happens then. I'd obviously not be here right now."
Jenks, entering his eighth season, is several pounds leaner than last season. He wouldn't specify how much weight he has lost, other than to say "a lot ... enough." The weight loss was part of his pre-surgery plan, and not a result of the infection. He pitched at 275 pounds last season.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said the team is looking into the circumstances of the first surgery.
"As soon as his symptoms returned, and he had to go back into the hospital in Phoenix, we obviously looked back to find out as much as we could," Cherington said. "It's a delicate area, obviously. With any surgery, there's no guarantee that you go in and everything is taken care of. In this particular case, unfortunately, they had to go in a second time.
"I can understand Bobby's frustration."
The initial surgery was performed at MGH by Dr. Kirkham Wood, chief of the orthopedic spine service at the hospital. The follow-up procedure was performed by Dr. Christopher Yeung in Scottsdale, Ariz.
Although he is recovering well from the second procedure, having the two surgeries so close together was "very, very painful."
He has not picked up a baseball since last season and has no timetable for a return. Jenks, who was placed on the 60-day disabled list this week to make room for right-hander Chris Carpenter, expects to stay at the Red Sox training complex until June.
"He had a difficult year and a difficult offseason," Cherington said. "He's frustrated by where he is physically and he is making progress. He's made progress in even the last few weeks, and we're going to do whatever we can to help him get back to pitching.
"And we remain hopeful he can help us this year."
Jenks had two less strikeouts (17) than appearances last season, and was not around as Boston collapsed in September. He last pitched in a game on July 7.
"All I know is the second procedure needed to happen. That's unfortunate and certainly with any player that requires surgery, you don't want to have to go back in and do anything a second time, certainly that soon thereafter," Cherington said. "But I can't speak to the specifics of what happened in the first procedure. It's not my area. There was something in there that wasn't taking the way it was planned. They needed to back in and clean it up again."
Asked if there is a chance he won't pitch this season, Jenks was noncommittal.
"I don't know right now," he said. "With everything going on, I'm just trying to stay focused on one day here at a time. I can't focus on that now because I'm going to be here until June anyway. And that's just going to kill me mentally, and I got to stray strong and positive right now."
Clearly, his tenure with the Red Sox has not been easy.
"So frustrating," he said. "Obviously, coming here, I never expected to have a season like this. I just feel bad that coming here as a free agent, deciding and choosing to come here, wanting to come here, and this is what the team is getting from me right now? It's just disappointing and frustrating."
With the departure of Jonathan Papelbon to the Phillies as a free agent and with Daniel Bard slated to be part of the rotation, a healthy and productive Jenks could have been a candidate to take over the closer's role. After all, he has 173 career saves.
"At this point, I miss the rush of being on the field," he said. "It feels like that I haven't pitched in an entire year, even though I did start the season and started well. But it went downhill so fast that I didn't have time to enjoy anything. So I really don't think worrying about closing right now is an option. Just worrying about doing everything I can to get back out on the field is number one."
Jenks was asked if he is considering legal action the wake of the first surgery.
"That's why I've got people," he said. "I let them worry about that. If there's something there, let them take care of it. My job is to get better and that's what I'm going to focus on right now."
Cherington was on the fence, as well.
"I don't know," he said. "It's not something we've discussed at this point."