Did the Yankees catch a break or is it the first domino to fall?
Masahiro Tanaka is likely to miss at least a month, general manager Brian Cashman said, after an MRI performed Tuesday showed the pitcher to have a "very small" right forearm strain, as well as tendinitis in his right wrist.
Cashman said Tanaka, headed to the 15-day DL, arrived around 2 p.m. Tuesday and "conveyed that his wrist was bothering him."
The Yankees then sent the 26-year-old righthander for the MRI.
The positive news for now is that Tanaka's right elbow, which suffered a slight ulnar collateral ligament tear last season that kept him sidelined for 21/2 months, "showed no changes with the ligament," according to Cashman. "He has no complaints about his elbow, none," Cashman said.
But the GM also couldn't rule out Tommy John surgery on the elbow, which many have speculated since last July as being an inevitability.
"Could be, I couldn't tell you," Cashman said when asked if this was a precursor to surgery. "No one can answer that question."
Cashman said "conservatively" he's using a month as the time Tanaka will be down. "At the very least, he'll be shut down from throwing for seven to 10 days," Cashman said. "Could be eight, could be nine, could be 10, could be 15, just depending on when he feels better . . . It [his return] could be sooner but I think . . . look, he's a starter, you have to build him back up."
Tanaka, who faced questions about his right elbow from the time he reported to Tampa for spring training in February and never saw them dissipated as his fastball velocity has been a tick or two down since then, was slated to start Wednesday afternoon. Cashman indicated Michael Pineda, slated to start Friday in Boston on extra rest, will start Wednesday on regular rest. Tanaka, whose bobblehead was given to fans as part of a promotion Tuesday night, is 2-1 with a 3.22 ERA, having improved steadily since his rough start Opening Day against the Blue Jays.
Tanaka has allowed just one earned run in 131/3 innings in his last two starts, including Thursday in Detroit, when he allowed one run in 61/3 innings of the Yankees' 2-1 victory over the Tigers. That start was Tanaka's first of the season on regular rest, though the pitcher said that had no impact on his injury. "Any time you lose a guy a like Tanaka it's not good, but at the same time we've got guys that can step up and fill his role and we hope to get him back soon," Brian McCann said. "We're deep, we have a deep system, we have deep arms, and we've got guys that can step up and fill that role."
Tanaka threw a bullpen session two days ago, one Cashman said was described to him by pitching coach Larry Rothschild as "dynamite."
"The bullpen session was fine, which was two days ago," Tanaka said through his translator. "I woke up the next morning and felt it a little bit in the wrist area. But I thought it would be fine. I went out and just played a light catch on that day, which was yesterday. I woke up this morning and felt it a little bit more than the day before."
Cashman said he had "absolutely no regret" about Tanaka forgoing surgery last July, when the tear occurred, as the club was following the recommendations of three of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country. "The experts, we follow what they prescribe," Cashman said.
Tanaka appeared on just about everyone's "players the Yankees can least afford to lose" lists going into the season. Tuesday's 4-2 victory over the Rays gave the AL East-leading Yankees (13-8) their 10th victory in 12 games.
Said CC Sabathia: "It's discouraging for us, it's tough but we'll move on, keep going.""Listen, he's down, it creates an opportunity for someone else," Cashman said. "You keep moving forward. That's the way it works. You can't let any of this stuff stop you."