These are uncertain days for Masahiro Tanaka

ERA: 1.99 Tanaka's ERA is the lowest in
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ERA: 1.99
Tanaka's ERA is the lowest in the American League and the third-lowest in MLB among qualified pitchers.(Credit: Getty Images / Jared Wickerham)

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Masahiro Tanaka doesn't know what tomorrow will bring. He doesn't know when he'll stop feeling those sharp bursts of pain whenever he moves his right elbow a certain way. And he certainly doesn't know when he'll be able to take the mound again.

The only comfort he can take is that for now, he won't be undergoing Tommy John surgery to repair his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, having his arm in a sling and experiencing the tedious daily ritual that goes with a long recovery -- as predictable as the baseball schedule he wouldn't be playing.

"Their decision was not to go with surgery, so that's pretty much it," Tanaka said of his doctors through an interpreter. "I should be able to get it healed and rehabbed and be able to get on the mound. All I can do is believe them and go with the treatment and rehab program that the team will be having for us."

The hope is that Tanaka, who said the pain has subsided somewhat but still is present, will be able to begin a throwing program in about three weeks, manager Joe Girardi said. But that can happen only if he feels no discomfort in his elbow.

"I think the plan is for him to pitch again [this season]," Girardi said. "I think it's too early to tell exactly when we'll get him back, but our hope is that we'll get him back. I think the timetable they gave was sometime in September, so we'll just have to wait and see."

Tanaka said he experienced twinges in the past but the pain and general irritation became marked during last week's start in Cleveland. "It was pain, not soreness," he said. "It wasn't something that was normal."

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It was a huge blow to an already depleted rotation that has lost 80 percent of its Opening Day starters. Tanaka is 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 1291/3 innings. In the first half of the season, the Yankees went 13-5 in Tanaka's starts and 34-42 in everyone else's. But he couldn't go any further.

He immediately told the trainers that something was wrong and an MRI showed a small UCL tear -- small enough, his doctors said, to not immediately veer toward surgery. He received a platelet-rich plasma injection and was told a six-week recovery might be possible.

GM Brian Cashman said everything must go perfectly for Tanaka to return in 2014. "I don't think I can have any expectations," he said. "He's getting treatment . . . and when he's symptom-free, he'll start a throwing program, which obviously leads to bullpens, batting practices and hopefully rehab games. All of that has to happen without issue."

Cashman alluded to other pitchers who have been able to rehab their way out of Tommy John surgery, using PRP injections to bolster the process. "I believe I was told by doctors that it can heal the ligament when [the tears] are small," he said. "They said, yeah, this could heal. Maybe it just makes it symptom-free. Either way, we're just hoping for the positive results."

Tanaka, meanwhile, is awash in uncertainty. He doesn't know if the pain will go away soon and he doesn't know what the rehab will be like when he can throw. He doesn't even know how much discomfort he's in.

"It's kind of difficult to say how much it hurts because there's not much of a scale that I can compare it to," he said. "I'll start throwing when it's pain-free, so basically we're going to have to wait for that day to come."

So no, Tanaka has no idea what tomorrow means for his season, but for now, that's the best news he can expect.

With Erik Boland

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