The veteran left-hander visited Thursday with orthopaedic specialist James Andrews, who confirmed the diagnosis from Rays team physician Koco Eaton and gave Seay his options. Surgery, he was advised, should be a last resort and only if rehab doesn't work, because the track record of pitchers coming back from it and throwing effectively isn't as good as it is for other procedures. It would cost him at least a year, and it's far from certain he would be come back as the same pitcher.
"It's a serious injury," Seay said. "This is an injury that could very well end my career. But it's also injury that I could possibly rehabilitate myself through."
Seay said the injury was called a Grade 2 undersurface tear. It nearly qualified as a Grade 3 tear, which would be the most severe on the scale. It involves the supraspinatus and infraspinatus tendons. The hope for rehab is to strengthen the muscles and everything around the injury to take as much pressure off it as possible.
The timetable for a rehab program, according to both Seay and Rand, is six weeks. There is a history of pitchers who have avoided surgery and pitched effectively with a rotator cuff tear, including Todd Stottlemyre. On the other side, Pedro Martinez underwent rotator cuff surgery a few years ago and has come back to pitch effectively.
"There have been guys who have rehabbed through this," Seay said. "To what severity, it's a big gray area. There's definitely an injury in my shoulder. Whether I can rehab through it and get back on the mound and be productive, be the pitcher that I am, only time can tell."
Rand expressed some level of confidence that can happen, based on case studies.
"I feel fairly confident," Rand said, "especially after speaking with Dr. Andrews yesterday that, based on his range of motion, his strength, his exam, that based on his I have a pretty good feeling he can get through all that and get him back."
Still, the news is basically a worse-case scenario for the Tigers, and certainly for the 31-year-old Seay, who was coming off a season where he set a career high with 67 appearances. He was on track to be a crucial part of the bullpen this year, and he's eligible for free agency at season's end.
As Seay put it bluntly Saturday, "I'm upbeat, but I realize there's a possibility that I've quite possibly thrown my last pitch, effectively. So that's what I've been dealing with mentally for about three days."
That emotion became clear to manager Jim Leyland when he talked with Seay Saturday.
"It was a sad conversation, really, because he's really down in the dumps. I mean, this is a tough one. This is not an easy situation. We're hoping for the best, and I've got a good feeling about it, but that doesn't do him much good today."
The Tigers placed Seay on the 15-day disabled list Saturday. With Seay sidelined, fellow lefty Phil Coke becomes a big piece of Detroit's bullpen. So, too, could Fu-Te Ni, who was effective pitching alongside Seay for the second half of last season.
Seay has had pain in his shoulder since he began throwing again this winter. He tried to pitch through it, but was shut down after his first side session of Spring Training produced pain he hadn't felt before.
The injury was originally listed as bursitis in his upper arm and tendinitis in his shoulder, and he tried to throw again after taking medication and getting some rest. His first side session went well, but he couldn't lift his arm into position to throw when he tried to do it again. Seay underwent an MRI exam last week.
"At least I have some clarity as far as what's going on," Seay said.
It's entirely possible Seay was pitching with the injury down the stretch last year, and that the pain only surfaced once his shoulder cooled down over the offseason.
"He's probably had some of this going on for a long time," Rand said. "It comes to a point where you just can't do it."
Seay went 6-3 with 28 holds and a 4.25 ERA last season, allowing 46 hits over 48 2/3 innings with 17 walks and 37 strikeouts. However, his stats were vastly different from the first half to the second. He went 5-2 with a 6.10 ERA after the All-Star break, and opponents batted .433 (13-for-30) against him in September and October.
"He's kind of a special guy for me," Leyland said, "because he kind of floundered around, never did much, and was kind of a high prospect. I'm proud to say we gave him a shot -- I'm bragging -- but he took advantage of it. He ran with it. He's done a heckuva job the last couple years for us.
"Those are always good stories. My heart aches for him. It really does. And I told him, from a selfish reason, it aches for me, too, because he pitched good."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.