For all the talk surrounding the Yankees’ need for a starting pitcher — one which general manager Brian Cashman could certainly acquire before the July 31 trade deadline — the Yankees’ rotation will soon get a boost from within, as Masahiro Tanaka is close to a return.
On Tuesday, Aaron Boone reiterated that Tanaka is scheduled for a rehab start at Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday. The next step, if all goes well, would be a start for the Yankees in one of the doubleheader games Monday against the Orioles at Camden Yards.
The goal in Scranton, Boone said, is to build Tanaka back up.
“I want to see him get his pitch count up,” Boone said, “so whether that’s 65, 70, 75 pitches probably this time out, we’re expecting to see him get after it with his fastball and just maintain stuff and get through healthy getting through that next level of 65, 70, 75 pitches.”
The righthander landed on the disabled list on June 9 with strains in both hamstrings after tagging up from third base against the Mets the previous night. General manager Brian Cashman initially estimated that Tanaka would miss about a month, putting his expected return right in line with that projection.
Before Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Braves, Tanaka said he could’ve pitched in the big leagues Wednesday, if asked. Tanaka said — without a translator —that he “feels great,” but he understood the team’s decision to play it safe.
“I think they have in mind of building me up stronger,” Tanaka said, this time through a translator. “I think they’re looking at the bigger picture of keeping me healthy deeper into the season. I’m OK with that.”
A healthy, effective Tanaka would likely lessen the need for a front-line starter, and lucky for the Yankees, his anticipated return will give the organization plenty of time to evaluate its options.
Adding the Tanaka who dominated during the 2017 playoffs to a rotation that has mostly held its own in his absence would be a boon to the team’s outlook as the deadline nears. In three playoff starts, he allowed just two earned runs, both in a loss to the Astros in Game 1 of the ALCS.
He didn’t carry that success into his first 13 starts this year, though. Home runs continue to limit his effectiveness, as his 4.58 ERA over 72 2/3 innings is partially a result of the 16 homers he’s allowed.
Tanaka’s return could bump Domingo German, Tuesday night’s starter, from the rotation. German has shown flashes of dominance, albeit with some inconsistency. Tanaka’s proven track record is an obvious upgrade to the rotation’s depth.
“Look, when he’s pitching well, he’s obviously a huge part of our rotation,” Boone said. “I think we’re all really excited to get him back.”