By JON KRAWCZYNSKI
AP Baseball Writer
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Scott Baker has struggled with pain in his pitching elbow for more than a year now, and the right-hander finally will have surgery to fix the problem once and for all. The injury, and the surgery, couldn't have come at a worse time for Baker or the Minnesota Twins.
Baker will have surgery to repair the flexor pronator tendon in his right elbow, the team announced on Wednesday. He will miss the entire season while rehabbing, which puts the Twins rotation in a serious bind and throws his pitching future into flux. Baker will be a free agent after this season, and the injury could severely impact the 30-year-old's value on the open market.
The tendon has bothered Baker for the last couple of seasons and he says he can no longer pitch through the pain. He got a second opinion this week and was told he needed surgery, which requires six months of rehab.
"It's been a battle and unfortunately it's a losing battle at this point," Baker said before the winless Twins took on the Los Angeles Angels. "The training staff and I have done everything we possibly could to pitch through it."
Baker hit the disabled list twice last season with discomfort in his elbow, derailing the best season on the staff last year. He started on opening day and went 8-6 with 3.14 ERA in 21 starts. He said the pain went away in the offseason, but flared up again once he started ramping up his workouts in spring training to get ready for 2012.
The Twins' medical staff and Baker tried to devise a program that would allow him to pitch through the pain, but it didn't work out.
"We never got him right this spring," general manager Terry Ryan said. "We thought things were progressing, and it came down to either he can pitch with this or he can't. He can't. So he's going to get it repaired."
If there is any good news, it's that he does not need Tommy John surgery, the elbow ligament replacement procedure that often requires more than a year of recovery time. Baker initially was diagnosed with an elbow strain, but sought a second opinion from Dr. David Altcheck in New York this week. Altcheck told Baker that he needed surgery, but that his ulnar collateral ligament appeared to be in fine shape.
That does little for the Twins' immediate future, or Baker's long-term prospects. The Twins were relying on Baker to be one of their best arms in the rotation this season. Now youngster Liam Hendriks and veteran Jason Marquis will be leaned on more heavily than initially planned to get them through.
For a team that struggled mightily with injuries during last year's 99-loss disaster, this is not the way it wanted to start in 2012.
"This isn't good by any stretch, because we've got a guy in the prime of his career, and his raw numbers are about as good as we have," Ryan said. "And now he's not available. So we've got to move on. And unfortunately this will be a challenge, but we'll get through it."
Baker said he hasn't given much thought to his future yet. He's spent his entire career in the Twins organization, starting in 2003 as a second-round draft pick out of Oklahoma State.
"The Twins are all I've known, and obviously I enjoy it here, so I hope that's not the case," Baker said when asked about the possibility that he's thrown his last pitch for the Twins. "But I just have to really focus on getting healthy. I know the work's going to be there. I'm going to work as hard as I can to get healthy... If I get healthy, things will take care of themselves."