DiFelice: 'I don't want it to end like this'

Brewers reliever Mark DiFelice succumbed to surgery last week to repair the torn labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder, a procedure that will sideline the right-hander next season and could threaten his Major League career. 

Dr. William Raasch performed the surgery in Milwaukee on Dec. 3, the Brewers announced Monday. DiFelice, 33, who also had major shoulder surgery back in 2001, expects to miss all of next season but hopes to pitch in the Majors again.

“I’m going to give it a shot,” he said. “It took me 10 years in the Minors to get to the big leagues, and I don’t want it to end like this.”

The Brewers placed DiFelice on the disabled list on Sept. 15 with what they first called “wear and tear” in his shoulder. An MRI scan didn’t reveal any significant damage, and a second opinion from Dr. Lewis Yocum at the end of the season confirmed Raasch’s suggestion of rest and rehab.

DiFelice was working with a physical therapist in Philadelphia but didn’t feel any improvement in the shoulder so he asked for further tests. An arthrogram revealed the damaged labrum and rotator cuff.

“Would we have been better doing surgery back in September or October? From what the doctors say, it probably didn’t make a difference,” DiFelice said. “I would have missed most of next season either way.”

Raasch inserted three tacks to secure the labrum and two sutures in the rotator cuff. 

DiFelice has made a miracle comeback before. It took him 2 1/2 years to fully recover from his first surgery, a procedure in 2001 to repair a fully-torn labrum, and by 2005 his career was fizzling. Released from organized baseball, DiFelice pitched in the Independent Atlantic League and then went to Mexico, where he discovered one pitch — the cut fastball — that gave him a second life.

He drew the Brewers’ interest the following season and then pitched at a pair of Milwaukee affiliates in 2007. By 2008, DiFelice was a 31-year-old Major League rookie. In 74 Brewers appearances over the past two seasons, he posted a 3.44 ERA and, working almost exclusively with that cutter, held right-handed opponents to a .218 batting average.

Now he’ll need to make another comeback.

“The good thing is that I’m not a guy who needs to throw 95 mph, because that probably wouldn’t come back after surgery,” DiFelice said. “I throw 84, 85, 86, and the thing I’ll have to do is find my location again. The doctor says that my chances of rehabbing and pitching again are pretty good; it just won’t happen in 2010, probably.”

DiFelice hopes to follow a path similar to left-hander Chris Capuano, who was nontendered at this time last year but re-signed with the club on a Minor League contract to rehabilitate from Tommy John surgery. He has yet to discuss his future with general manager Doug Melvin.

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