CLEVELAND - The Yankees didn't get the news they hoped regarding Masahiro Tanaka, but they didn't get the worst news, either. At least not yet.
Brian Cashman said Thursday night on a conference call that an MRI of Tanaka's right arm showed a "small tear'' in the ulnar collateral ligament but that Tommy John surgery, the usual remedy for such an injury, is not the option being chosen at this time.
Instead, after consulting with three orthopedic surgeons in Seattle, including Yankees team physician Christopher Ahmad, the determination was made to first attempt a rehab, with a best-case scenario of a return to the mound in six weeks.
"The ligament tear in question is considered small and the Yankees have had success with pitchers that have had these,'' Cashman said, declining to give names. "It doesn't rule out the possibility of Tommy John.''
Cashman said the rehab will start with a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection Monday followed by a period of rest. "We're hopeful and optimistic that the recommendations by all three physicians will be a successful course of action,'' he said. "But there's no guarantee in that.''
Tanaka, who signed a seven-year, $155-million deal in January, complained of elbow soreness after Tuesday's game, in which he allowed a season-high five runs and 10 hits. He was sent Wednesday to New York for an MRI, the results of which, along with Tanaka, were sent to Seattle to be evaluated by Ahmad and other top orthopedic surgeons there for a conference.
Although Tuesday night was the first time Joe Girardi was made aware of any elbow soreness, a source told Newsday on Wednesday that Tanaka, 25, had felt discomfort in his "last few'' outings. Tanaka, 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 1291/3 innings, has lost three of his last four starts.
Girardi was asked about losing four starting pitchers before the All-Star break. "I would never have figured that, no,'' he said. "But there's not a whole lot that you can go back and redo. You just have to find a way.''
Ivan Nova was lost earlier in the season to Tommy John surgery after suffering a torn UCL. But Cashman said Nova's tear was far more severe.
"Different circumstances,'' he said. "One thing that all three physicians have conveyed is it's a small tear in the ligament. Because of that, they believe this is the proper course, with no influence from the club. If we knew today that the best course of action was Tommy John surgery, despite the name [Tanaka] and the amount [invested], we would be doing Tommy John surgery . . . All three [physicians] suggest the same route.''
The danger, which Cashman readily acknowledged, is if it is a "failed rehab,'' Tommy John surgery would be the likely recourse, costing Tanaka not only the rest of this season but a larger chunk of next season as well. Standard recovery time from the operation is nine to 12 months.
"We're certainly hopeful and optimistic, if you can be, given the circumstances, that we have potentially the chance to avoid surgery and maybe see if he can respond positively to this,'' Cashman said. "We're not here to sugarcoat or to mislead . . . Right now, surgery is not an option, but surgery can become an option if it's a failed rehab.''
He added, "I'm certainly disappointed for our player. I'm disappointed for our organization. We've had a lot of important pieces missing in action, and he's an important piece.
"But we have to continue to figure a way to plug the hole and also be hopeful and optimistic for Masahiro that he responds positively to the treatment protocol and we can have him back at normal capabilities at a future date, hopefully no more than six weeks. But time will tell.''
Derek Jeter took the bad news stoically. "It is what it is,'' he said. "You can't sit around and feel sorry for yourself when [other] teams don't feel sorry for us . . . Yeah, it's unfortunate, but you have to move on.''
Said David Phelps, "Last year it was our lineup, this year it's the rotation. But like I said, it gives some young guys an opportunity. Two years ago, I was one of those guys. Hopefully guys open up some eyes and make the best of it.''