An MRI performed earlier this week revealed a small tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. The news came as a major surprise, considering Drabek hasn't experienced a lot of pain despite leaving Wednesday afternoon's game against the Nationals in the fifth inning.
Drabek is now set to receive a second opinion from Dr. James Andrews on Monday, but if the initial diagnosis is confirmed, the right-hander likely will be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career.
"I was down, because they said they saw a little tear, and right when they said that, I flashed back to when I had it previously," said Drabek, who underwent the procedure in 2007. "[I] hated going through it. You miss a year of baseball, you miss a year of hanging out with the guys.
"Today it's a little different, because it doesn't feel the same way it did the first time. I still have mobility in my arm, and when I had it before, everything was pained."
The lack of discomfort associated with the injury is what makes this case so bizarre.
Drabek first felt a popping sensation in the elbow while throwing to Washington's Ryan Zimmerman on Wednesday. He called for the team trainer and was immediately pulled from the game. Later that day he passed a series of strength tests, and the club felt there wasn't a serious cause for alarm but still sent him for precautionary MRIs.
The 24-year-old then received the unfortunate news. It came as an absolute shock not only to Drabek but to the entire organization.
"The MRI shows an injured ligament, and yet at the same time, his symptoms are not consistent with a tear," manager John Farrell said. "You would have a guy that either would have swelling, or he would be very sore when you go through a range of motion or you place some stress on the elbow to test the ligament.
"That could speak to the overall strength of the muscles that support the elbow. But still, there's something that's definitive in there, and with respect to Kyle, we've got to make sure that we expose him to the best available to determine the extent of the injury and what the next steps are."
Drabek is holding out hope that he can avoid going under the knife. He won't know more until Monday's visit with Dr. Andrews, but if the diagnosis is confirmed, he likely will be out of action for at least the next 12 months.
A pitcher undergoing Tommy John surgery a second time is relatively rare. A first surgery is becoming quite common among Major Leaguers, but only a select few have undergone it twice.
Right-hander Jason Frasor is one of those who underwent the procedure twice, and he has gone on to have a very successful tenure in the big leagues. That can provide some assurance to Drabek when there aren't a lot of positives -- if any -- to take from his predicament.
"I talked to Jason Frasor about it. He had it twice, and he has never been on the DL since," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "He's mid-30s right now, and he's had it twice. It's hard to say, it could be the way it was done. I know in terms of Frasor, when they did it the first time, it may not have been done exactly the way it needed to be done.
"There's just no way to tell. It's certainly occurred to a few other guys before. The recovery rate is fine, but the odd part about it is that [Drabek] doesn't have any pain. It's not what you'd expect it to be. That's why I asked our guys, 'Is it 100 percent?' And they said, 'No.' That's why we're going to send him down to Andrews just to see."
Drabek got off to a hot start this season, going 2-2 with a 2.40 ERA in his first five starts. Since May, though, things haven't gone as smoothly, as he posted a 2-5 record and 6.31 ERA over his next eight outings. A lack of control was his biggest enemy throughout that prolonged period of ineffectiveness. Drabek walked 32 over those 41 1/3 innings and has issued a Major League-worst 47 free passes on the year.
Though the situation came to a head on Wednesday, Drabek admitted there's a chance the ligament could have been damaged for quite some time.
"We don't know -- up until the past week, it's felt great," he said. "I'm hoping what they saw might have been there and it's just a little rehab. I'll wait to see.
"[We] haven't really talked much about best case, worst case. The best case is it's a month, two months of rehab; worst case is that it's completely torn and I have to miss a full year."