By Chad Jennings
So here’s what happened…
Masahiro Tanaka tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt in the second inning on Friday, but it was a bad one, and Tanaka needed to hustle down the line to make sure it wasn’t a double play. As he came out of the box, Tanaka felt something unusual in his right leg. When he got to the dugout, he told the Yankees’ coaching staff that his hamstring was tight.
Tanaka convinced the team that tightness was not necessarily a problem, and he pitched five more innings before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the seventh. When the situation was relatively unchanged on Saturday — not worse, still tight — the Yankees sent Tanaka for an MRI that revealed a Grade 1 strain.
“He pitched well,” Joe Girardi said. “But our fear is that if he goes out there Wednesday he could hurt it worse, and then you’re in a whole lot of trouble.”
If Tanaka really does miss only one start, he presumably still could make two more starts this season, and I’m guessing he could also be lined up to start a potential wild card game. But those are issues for another day. The issue at the moment is that Tanaka is hurt, perhaps not badly, but enough that he won’t be starting in a key game against the team the Yankees are chasing in the American League East.
“I did tell them that I wanted to pitch on Wednesday,” Tanaka said. “At the same time, I understand their decision. The season is not over. We don’t know when, but I’ll probably be able to pitch again after the Toronto series. … I felt strong enough to be able to keep myself on the mound and pitch effectively (Friday). If I felt that it was something that I could not have handled, then I would not be in that game.”
Girardi said he always asks his pitchers not to do too much when they have to hit in these National League ballparks, but Tanaka clearly saw the need to hustle down the line, and we’ve now seen the end result. Tanaka said he had a hamstring issue roughly five years ago that cost him a month, but this one doesn’t feel nearly as bad. He believe he can pitch, but he seems to understand that perhaps he shouldn’t.
“It just feels very unfortunate,” Tanaka said.
Tanaka will not travel with the team and will instead stay in New York for three days of treatment. How soon he pitches again seems to depend on how quickly he shows progress.
“He went through everything he went through (Friday) and it didn’t get worse,” Girardi said. “He didn’t wake up Saturday and it was worse. It’s not worse today. So he’s going to get a lot of treatment and hopefully get it out of there.”
• Ivan Nova was taken out of the rotation after a brutal start against Toronto last weekend. Now he’ll jump back in the rotation to once again face that lineup. Girardi pointed out that Nova actually pitched pretty well in Toronto last month, but clearly this isn’t the rotation the Yankees wanted to carry into such a key series. “He’s had some good starts and some bad starts the past month,” Girardi said. “We’re just going to need a good start in his next start.”
• Nova threw a side on Saturday just to get some work because he hadn’t pitched in a while. “After that (last) start that I have, I think the time off can help a lot,” Nova said.
• For the second day in a row, the Yankees are starting Dustin Ackley ahead of Stephen Drew at second base. He’s barely played the position the past two years, but he’s been a really nice hitter since coming off the disabled list. “We’ve liked the way he’s swung the bat,” Girardi said. “And our expectation (when trading for him was) that he would be able to help us out in different positions since he had played a number of positions over in Seattle; that we could move him around and that our ballpark could play really well for him. He’s swung the bat really well, whether we’ve pinch-hit him, played him against knuckleballers, played him against a guy that threw 100 yesterday, he’s been productive and that’s why we went and got him.”
• Because tonight’s game is so late, the Yankees are having both Adam Warren and Luis Severino fly ahead of the team to Toronto before tonight’s game. Those two will start the first two games against the Blue Jays, and while it’s not unusual to have the next day’s starter fly aheaed — in this case, Warren — the Yankees are also sending Severino because they don’t want tonight’s late flight to mess up his sleep routine.
• Toronto lost against the Red Sox this afternoon. That means, if the Yankees can win tonight, they’ll be only two out in the loss column heading into this upcoming three-game series. “You know you have an opportunity to pick up a game,” Girardi aid. “Going in there two behind sounds better than three behind, that’s for sure, when you start talking about the loss column, so it’s encouraging for us.”