Gavin Floyd was having one of those magical nights that athletes dream about.
His fastball was precise, his curveball unhittable. With family and friends in the stands, the native Marylander opened the seventh inning of Thursday’s game against the Nationals in complete control of what became a 3-0 shutout win for the Atlanta Braves. And then, in his ninth start back after Tommy John surgery, Floyd’s right elbow let him down again.
After the first pitch of the seventh inning, a long foul fly to left by Jayson Werth, Floyd grimaced and walked toward the dugout, his night over. Television replays showed the elbow swollen to the size of a golfball, an ugly sight. The official diagnosis? A fracture of the olecranon, the bony tip of the elbow.
“It was a weird spot,” Floyd said. “It was a little sore before, not in the area that I had surgery, so I figured that it was just things that were a little sore. But it was fine until that last pitch, then I felt a pop. It wasn’t painful, at least, but I wasn’t sure so I asked to come out.”
Floyd, 31, was immediately placed on the disabled list after the game and Braves officials will determine how long he’ll miss after an exam on Tuesday in Atlanta. The fourth overall pick in the 2001 draft and a Mount St. Joseph product, Floyd had previously pitched for the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago White Sox. It was with the White Sox last May 7 that he underwent Tommy John surgery after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament.
And yet Floyd had pitched beautifully upon his return for an Atlanta rotation that was decimated by injuries before the season began. In his six innings against the Nats, he gave up just two hits and walked one with six strikeouts. The Braves‘ bullpen continued to keep Washington’s bats in check as Atlanta (37-35) pulled to within a half game of the first place Nats in the NL East.
“It’s one pitch, one pitch. What a shame,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The guy comes back all the way from Tommy John. And it’s two different things, one doesn’t affect the other. I think that in the big picture he’s going to be okay. But again, let him fly back to Atlanta and have our guys look at it.”
Floyd was 2-2 in his nine starts, pitching well despite a year away from the majors with a 2.65 ERA. He’d struck out 27 batters and walked just eight. It was a small, encouraging sample size for a pitcher who never quite lived up to his hype as an amateur, but had still carved out a solid career. Floyd’s best season came with Chicago in 2008 when he had a 3.84 ERA in 33 starts.
The news dampened the mood in the winning locker room. Floyd is disappointed he won’t be able to help his team continue its domination of the Nats (37-34) over the last two seasons. Atlanta is now 19-7 against them since the start of 2013. Add in Washington’s struggles against the St. Louis Cardinals, who swept them over the weekend and are 11-2 against them dating to last year, and there’s an issue against two of the National League’s playoff contenders.
“You’ve got to think losing that many games, it’s not all coincidence,” Nats first baseman Adam LaRoche said. “They play us tough, plain and simple. They come up with some big hits, and we seem to not get a whole lot of action on the basepaths. I don’t know what it is. At this point, between them and St. Louis, we’re just kind of snakebite.”
Washington finished with just three hits and five runners reached base. A sixth-inning double by Denard Span with one out and Werth’s leadoff double after Floyd’s departure in the seventh went for naught. Anthony Rendon drew a ninth-inning walk off closer Craig Kimbrel, but advanced no further.
The Nats wasted a solid effort from starter Jordan Zimmermann (5-4, 2.95 ERA), who allowed four singles in the decisive two-run fourth inning. But only one of those balls was hit hard. A Chris Johnson three-hopper up the middle scooted into center field and drove home two runs with the bases loaded.
Otherwise, Zimmermann went seven innings with a walk and six strikeouts on seven hits. Atlanta added an insurance run in the eighth inning when Johnson smashed a line drive off the leg of reliever Jerry Blevins for an RBI infield hit. It was another satisfying win against their rivals, but one that came at a cost.
“You don’t ever want to see anyone get hurt. I think [Floyd] has come back from Tommy John as well,” left fielder Ryan Zimmerman said. Obviously, you never want to see any thing like that happen to anyone who worked hard to get here, worked hard to rehab from an injury that he’s already had to go through. You feel bad for guys when things like that happen.”