The 23-year-old got out of the gates smartly, going 4-0 with a 1.59 ERA in April and was named The Cardinal Nation/Scout.com Pitcher of the Month. In 22 2/3 innings, the former University of California-Irvine hurler collected 23 strikeouts compared to only eight walks. His win total paced the Texas League while his ERA and strikeout total was the fourth best in the circuit.
On May 19, Gorgen took the mound with a 5-1 record and an ERA down to 1.17 before trouble ensued. He left the game due to what was initially called an elbow strain. It would be his season's turning point.
"I knew it was pretty bad, but I was optimistic when I found out the next day that the MRI showed there was no tear in the ligament," Gorgen explained. "I was just thinking that all the pain and discomfort in my elbow would eventually go away."
A plan for rest and rehab was charted that was expected to keep him out of action until August.
Gorgen was not forgotten in the Texas League. In mid-June, he was recognized with selection to the mid-season All-Star team representing the North Division. In a testament to the lasting impression he created, Gorgen was given this honor despite having been active in less than half of the pre-break games.
As June moved into July, the Cardinals' fourth round selection in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft headed to Jupiter, Florida to rehab at the Cardinals complex there. He had not picked up a baseball since May.
As his workload was increased, Gorgen was still experiencing discomfort, but was cleared to return to action for Springfield in late August.
"It got better and better, but we were doing things to manage the pain," Gorgen recalled. "It finally plateaued. It was still painful, but not unbearable."
The decision was made for Gorgen to pitch as a reliever, which he did commencing on August 26. From his perspective, returning to a starting role was out of the question.
"There was no way I could have gone out there and thrown six innings every five days," he said flatly..
Gorgen made four one-inning appearances late in the season for the Double-A Cardinals and two more outings in the post-season. He knew his elbow was not right.
"They sent me for a post-season checkup with (Cardinals team physician) Dr. (George) Paletta in St. Louis," the pitcher said. "They gave me another MRI and it revealed that I had a pretty good tear on the ligament."
Gorgen is almost positive that the injury was sustained in May.
"I don't know how it didn't get caught the first time and did get caught the second time," he said. "I don't know. The ink didn't get there or something. It didn't show on the original MRI.
"When I threw the ball, I knew which pitch I hurt it on and I threw four more pitches after that. The discomfort in my elbow never really went away so something told me I tore it on the first one (on May 19)," Gorgen said.
The pitcher is disappointed as anyone would be over the situation and time lost, but isn't angry about the medical advice he received.
"It's fine, but it is one of those things where I could have been a lot further along in surgery had it been found at that point," Gorgen noted. "But because they didn't find the tear, they had every right – I would have done the same thing – to try to rehab it like we did.
"That didn't work, so now we are going underneath the knife," he said.
After having to wait the better part of two months to get it scheduled, Gorgen's surgery will be conducted by his choice of surgeons, Dr. Lewis Yocum, in Los Angeles on October 26.
"It is better to get it done now while I am still young enough and hopefully come back stronger and throwing harder," he explained. "I am trying to take as much positive out of it as possible, but obviously, it is kind of hard the way things have worked out."
Gorgen is pragmatic about his immediate future.
"It is safe to say I will be out for all of 2011 and I will have a little time during the (next) off-season to get ready for 2012. I wouldn't say there is a chance for fall ball or anything like that. They want me to get everything right and be ready for 2012."
In the meantime, Gorgen has already called upon his friend John Baker for advice, as the Florida Marlins catcher had the same procedure five weeks ago. Gorgen is also already planning to pick Jaime Garcia's brain in spring training. They both were rehabbing in Jupiter early in 2009 – Gorgen from shoulder surgery and Garcia from Tommy John.
"We had a fair number of guys rehabbing from Tommy John when I was down there this summer," Gorgen recalled. "The organization has a good rehab program for this surgery so I am going to look to them every step of the way and try not to overdo, but keep myself in shape and push along, pass all my tests with flying colors and get a chance to get out there and start competing again."
The pitcher understands the odds are strongly in his favor while acknowledging there are no guarantees.
"Baseball is a game of stats and the stats for this surgery are on the positive end – an 85-90 percent chance I will come back," Gorgen observed. "I will take those odds in my favor any day of the week.
"If I happen to be one of the freak ones that can't make it back, then there is another plan in place for me. I hope this is one of those success stories and I will get my shot at living out my childhood dream – to pitch in the major leagues.
"The Cardinals are still giving me the opportunity to do what I love. As long as they are behind it and give me the chance to come back and play, that is what I really care about at this point," Gorgen said in closing.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Selected TCN content appears at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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