"[Surgery] was really kind of the last resort," Niemann said. "But we've done everything that you can, and it's gotten us this far. We just kind of need a little boost to get us all the way back. Unfortunately, we had to make the tough choice, and it was really the only option out there."
Niemann said that he did not feel like he would be able to compete at the Major League level if he did not have the surgery. Though he pitched well throughout Spring Training while competing with Roberto Hernandez for the fifth spot in the rotation, Niemann started feeling a lot of pain once he began to prepare to work in the bullpen. He said it got to a point where he had difficulty putting on his shirt.
"If you can barely put your shirt on, it's a little more difficult to throw a baseball at this level," Niemann said.
Niemann said recovery time for the operation will depend on the extent of the injury found during surgery, but he added that "optimistically," it would be nine to 12 months for recovery.
The 6-foot-9 right-hander experienced an injury-riddled 2012 campaign when he opened the season as the team's fifth starter. First he suffered a fractured right fibula on May 14 when Toronto's Adam Lind hit a line drive off his ankle.
Niemann spent three and a half months on the disabled list. He returned to make just one more start on Sept. 1 in Toronto, but he pitched only 3 1/3 innings due to tightness in his right arm. That tightness was later diagnosed as slight inflammation in his rotator cuff.
"It's really frustrating, because [the period before going on the DL for the first time in 2012 was] the best I've ever been as a pitcher at any level in my career," Niemann said. "On the good side, that's what we have in our head to get back to. We were on a roll and things were going the way they should have gone. And then the script gets flipped over a little bit trying to get out of this hole that seems to get deeper and deeper. All you can do is keep fighting."
Niemann said he's talked to friend and former teammate J.P. Howell, who had shoulder surgery and is now fully recovered and pitching for the Dodgers. And what did Howell tell him?
"Buckle up, buckle up," Niemann said. "Stay positive and hang on. It's going to be bumpy sometimes. But at the end of the day, this is the right decision and the only chance that we have of getting back to where we want to be."