July 8, 2014: The Indians clobber Masahiro Tanaka, at this point a Cy Young candidate, for five runs and 10 hits in just his fourth loss of the season. After the game, Tanaka says something was bothering him, but couldn’t explain exactly what. He later blamed his control on the poor outing.
By Brendan Kuty
NEW YORK — Putting Masahiro Tanaka and his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament onto the Yankee Stadium mound Sunday “is a risk worth taking,” manager Joe Girardi said Friday.
The Yankees want to know as soon as possible whether Tanaka, their $155-million ace, can successfully pitch with the potentially devastating injury or whether he’ll need reconstructive surgery, Girardi said.
That’s why the Yankees aren’t waiting until the spring for the 25-year-old to pitch in the majors again, the manager said. Tanaka’s elbow injury won’t heal on its own and the Yankees would prefer him skip the operation if he doesn’t need it, Girardi said.
The club wants to avoid the operation Tanaka would have to fix the UCL, known as Tommy John surgery, for two big reasons. The first: It would sideline their star for between 12 and 18 months. The second: The surgery isn’t always successful and though players have reported better results from it over recent years, there’s a chance Tanaka doesn’t return as the same pitcher who went 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA for the Yankees this season.
“We feel that if his arm is going to be OK, it’s going to be OK,” Girardi said. “And if it’s not, we want (Tanaka to have surgery) so that you don’t miss parts of two seasons. It would be three (seasons) possibly.”
Girardi said if Tanaka waits until the spring to have the surgery he’d miss all of 2015, much of 2016 and maybe even some of 2017.
“So this way, you know if (pitching) doesn’t work, we probably wouldn’t have (him) for next season,” the manager said.
Tanaka is scheduled to throw 70 to 75 pitches against the Blue Jays Sunday, his first appearance on a major-league mound since July 8. The injury was discovered the next day and he’s been on the disabled list since.
If Tanaka’s outing goes well Sunday, the Yankees wouldn’t pitch him again until Sept. 27 in Boston. That would give Tanaka an extra days’ rest. Japanese starting pitchers typically throw every sixth day in their home country while Americans throw every fifth.
Tanaka threw a bullpen session Wednesday and played catch Thursday. He reported no pain, Girardi said.