By Chad Jennings
First, the basics of what’s going on with Masahiro Tanaka:
He’s going on the disabled list tomorrow, and the Yankees will keep Chase Whitley in the rotation. Michael Pineda will start tomorrow’s game on regular rest, and it sounds likely Gregorio Petit will be activated just one day after being optioned (the Yankees can do that since it’s a reaction to a player going on the disabled list). Now, onto the bigger questions.
What exactly happened to Tanaka’s forearm?
The short answer is, it seems no one is entirely sure. Tanaka said he felt fine after Thursday’s start in Detroit, and Brian Cashman said there were actually rave reviews about Tanaka’s bullpen on Sunday. Cashman said there was some early speculation — before the MRI results came in — that maybe some of the torque from that bullpen caused Tanaka to aggravate something in his wrist, but the tests actually came back negative in the wrist. The forearm issue that was discovered is incredibly mild and Tanaka never complained about it.
“He has the wrist complaint, but that led us to run into something else,” Cashman said. “So when you package it all together, we’re taking the safe conservative route. He has no complaint of his elbow, none, and he physically tests out fine with the elbow. I think he was surprised about the very small (strain) — and I stress small, I can’t even call it a Grade 1 — the very small signal in the forearm muscles. The combination of the tendinitis in the wrist — he throws that split finger — with the signal on the forearm muscle, Dr. Ahmad recommended the disabled list.”
Tanaka dismissed the idea that pitching on normal rest caused the issue, and Cashman repeatedly stressed that there’s been no physical change in the elbow, though it’s impossible for anyone to rule out the idea that this issue might be somehow related to the lingering elbow issue in one way or another.
What does this mean for Tanaka’s elbow?
In the short term, nothing. I guess it means the elbow is going to get some unexpected rest, but ultimately the Yankees don’t seem to be approaching this as an elbow issue, and certainly not as an issue that changes their approach to Tanaka. They’re shutting him down to make sure this issue doesn’t spread to the elbow ligament.
“We want to make sure that we protect, obviously, the elbow because obviously the forearm protects the elbow,” Cashman said. “We want to make sure that this doesn’t lead to the more horrific problems that we’re trying to avoid.”
Tanaka said he doesn’t consider this to be an elbow issue. His wrist hurt, and he found out his forearm was slightly injured. That’s the immediate medical reality. The bigger medical reality is that the elbow is an issue that will linger over everything. The Yankees have treated Tanaka differently because of the elbow, and now they’re taking a typically cautious approach in an effort to further protect the elbow. This is nothing new, and Cashman said he still has no regrets about the way the Yankees have handled Tanaka’s health.
“Absolutely no regret because we’re following the medical directives,” Cashman said. “I can’t remember any time we’ve ever gone against doctors’ orders. Why would we? They’re the experts. We follow what they prescribe.”
What will the Yankees change going forward?
It seems, not much. Cashman said the team would have reacted the same way should any pitcher get this diagnosis at this point in the season. They’re typically conservative, and they follow their doctors’ advice, and so Tanaka is being shut down for seven to 10 days before beginning the slow return.
“Nothing really big came out from the MRI or anything,” Tanaka said. “So I feel that I can come back strong.”
Joe Girardi has said since spring training, and he said again today, that the Yankees won’t ask Tanaka to stop throwing his split-finger because the split-finger is a big part of what makes Tanaka effective. It’s just a cost of doing business. He’d been throwing splits since early spring, and there was no issue until today, and even today’s issue seems relatively minor and so far seems to come with no additional damage to the elbow. Pitchers get hurt, and so far, this pitcher’s been hurt quite a bit in his year-plus with the Yankees. There’s surely some relief that this isn’t an elbow issue, but it’s still an issue.
“The fact that I’m talking to you right now, I don’t feel like is a good thing,” Cashman said. “It’s good that the elbow is fine as of right now, and there’s no change there. Listen, I wanted him to make his next start (before discovering the injury), but we’re going to do the right course of action to make sure when he’s on that mound he’s able to be the best he can possibly be. Could he pitch? He can take the ball. Should he pitch? We’ll have to wait until he’s 100 percent.”
• After Chase Whitley pitched a 1-2-3 first inning, I tweeted that there was basically no circumstance in which Whitley would not be optioned tomorrow morning. Even if he pitched a complete game, I joked, he would still be sent down. Then this happened. “Right now he’s in our rotation,” Girardi said. “He will be here tomorrow.”
• Whitley nearly made the Yankees out of spring training, and tonight he finally got here and allowed one run through five innings. He pitched out of jams, struck out five, walked one and seems to made the most of this opportunity. “It feels good to be able to go out tonight and do my job,” Whitley said. “I’m not trying to look ahead to anything else, just pitch when and where they tell me to pitch.”
• Whitley was spot starting, and both Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller were unavailable after pitching the past two nights, and the pitching staff still allowed just two runs with 12 strikeouts. “To do what they did tonight, they’re pitching in roles that they’re not accustomed to, and they’re all thriving,” Brian McCann said.
• Chris Martin got the first save of his big league career. He’s been a really nice find early in the season. “I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t (feel different in the ninth),” Martin said. “It was a little nerve racking, but I settled down there for the first hitter.”
• Interesting that Girardi went with Martin instead of David Carpenter in the ninth. Girardi said he was saving Carpenter for just in case the Rays came back to tie the game and force extra innings. With Miller, Betances and Justin Miller having each pitched back-to-back games, Carpenter would have been the last line of defense.
• Esmil Rogers went 2.2 scoreless innings with five strikeouts and one hit. He struck out half the batters he faced. He’s really been terrific in that long relief role. “A tremendous outing out of Esmil Rogers,” Giradi said. “Comes in with a runner on third and one out and gets two outs; strikes out the first guy, Beckham, then gets a ground out and gets us to the ninth inning. And then Martin does a really good job as well.”
• Three consecutive 10-strikeout games for the Yankees pitching staff. They have 11 games of 10 or more strikeouts this season, the most in the big leagues.
• Another big night at the plate for McCann who had two doubles and three RBI. Last night he had the big home run. “I feel good,” he said. “I’ve been feeling good all season long, to be honest with you. Hits are starting to fall and I’m finding the barrel.”
• Jacoby Ellsbury had his team-high eighth multi-hit game of the season. Since April 22 he’s hitting .429 with six runs and four stolen bases in six games.
• Ellsbury stole two bases tonight. Brett Gardner stole one. Those two are each hitting over .300 at the top of the order.
• Jose Pirela continued his Double-A rehab assignment and went 0-for-3 as Trenton’s starting second baseman. He was pulled for a defensive replacement in the bottom of the sixth, which I would assume is because the original plan was to have Pirela activated for tomorrow’s game in New York. Instead, Cashman said he’s expecting to bring back Petit.
• Final word goes to Girardi on Tanaka: “I was shocked because he said it was his wrist, and we had heard nothing in the five days that had led up to this. He threw his bullpen as scheduled he was ready to go tomorrow, so I was like, wow, it’s not what I expected. … We’re hoping that he gets the time off and he’s completely healthy. That’s what we’re hoping. It’s different than what he dealt with last year. He didn’t say nothing until today and he said that it was sore, he didn’t say it was bad. I was shocked when I heard it. It is what it is and you’ve got to deal with it.”