Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
By Brendan Kuty
NEW YORK — Masahiro Tanaka looked strong in his first time back with the Yankees since partially tearing the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
Tanaka lasted 5 1/3 innings, throwing 70 pitches while surrendering just a run on five hits and a hit batter. he walked no one and struck out four.
Here were Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild’s main takeaways from Tanaka’s outing:
No restraint: Tanaka didn’t appear to hold anything back, Rothschild said, which is a good sign. “He just went after it, the way you’re used to seeing him do,” the coach said.
Tanaka gave up a pair of hits to lead off the game and left the frame down, 1-0. Still, Rothschild said, Tanaka’s resolve didn’t waiver.
“It had been bothering him that he hadn’t been out there in a while,” the coach said. “He just has complete confidence in what he’s doing. Everything else follows suit.”
Tanaka appeared tentative for most of his most recent intense work — a 65-pitch simulated game in Tampa Friday. But, Rothschild said, that hesitation was gone Sunday.
“In the sim games he tried to pace himself just to stick his toe in the water to see what it’s going to be like,” the coach said. “And as he felt that it was going to be OK he pushed it a little bit more.”
No scalpel … yet: Rothschild said Tanaka’s start was a “step in the right direction.” He means a step away from the operating table.
If Tanaka can’t pitch with the tear — these things don’t heal on their own — he’ll need Tommy John surgery, which the Yankees desperately want to avoid giving their $175-million investment for at least two main reasons: It would sideline Tanaka for between 12 and 18 months, and there’s no guarantee he’d return the same pitcher, though the procedure’s success rate has gone up in recent years.
No more tests, either: An MRI revealed the initial tear in Tanaka’s elbow.And while it might sound like it makes sense to give him another to see whether the ligament has been damaged more, Rothschild said otherwise.
“Absolutely not,” the coach said. “If you start analyzing every little bit, it doesn’t do any good. If he’s going to be OK, he’ll be OK. If not, he’ll feel it.”