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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Masahiro Tanaka's shin injury is something to worry about

X-rays were negative, but if he can't pitch, it will be a devastating blow to a thin rotation.  

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees reacts against the

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees reacts against the Rays during the sixth inning at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

It was a kick save. And it was a beauty.

Yandy Diaz’s hot shot with two outs in the sixth inning was ticketed for an RBI single to centerfield when the ball hit Masahiro Tanaka’s right shin and ricocheted to Luke Voit, who gobbled it up and stepped on first base to maintain the Yankees' 1-0 lead on Saturday.

Even though Tanaka was able to walk to the dugout, it was another case of one step forward and two steps back for the Yankees in the injury department. Or in this case, two incremental steps forward and one potentially damaging step back.

In the immediate aftermath of the Yankees’ 2-1, 11-inning loss to the Rays, the worry wasn’t so much about having Tampa Bay leapfrog over the Yankees and back into first place a day after the Yankees did the same with a ninth-inning comeback victory.

No, the concern for the Yankees has to be their suddenly thin starting rotation, which can ill afford to lose Tanaka for any length of time, and the continuing way the baseball gods seem to throw injuries at them on a nearly daily basis.

And all on a day that started with really good injury news for the Yankees. Giancarlo Stanton will begin a minor-league rehab assignment on Monday. So will Didi Gregorius, who is doing so well in his comeback from Tommy John surgery that he will play in an extended spring training game.

But Tanaka’s swollen and wrapped shin dominated the postgame conversation, even though X-rays were negative.

“I never felt like the bone was broken,” Tanaka said through his translator. “I learned after [the game] it was 111 miles per hour. It got me pretty good.”

When asked if Tanaka will be able to make his next start, manager Aaron Boone said: “We’ll just have to see.”

Tanaka, who did not come back out for the seventh, said when asked the same question: “Can’t say for now. We’ll see how it is tomorrow.”

Saturday was Day Two of a 17-game stretch in which the Yankees play every day. With Luis Severino, James Paxton and Jonathan Loaisiga on the injured list, they already are operating with only four starting pitchers. Boone will use Chad Green on Sunday as an opener against the Rays, the team that invented the opener, for better or worse.

Boone made the decision to open with Green after he needed to use Luis Cessa in the 11th on Saturday. Cessa gave up Austin Meadows' go-ahead home run. Tommy Kahnle, who replaced Tanaka to start the seventh, had served up Brandon Lowe's tying home run.

Boone said he would not have sent Tanaka back out for the seventh either way, but the righthander had thrown only 88 pitches and had allowed three hits with no walks and six strikeouts. He should have come back out for the seventh had his shin not gotten in the way.

Tanaka’s ERA dropped to 3.09, third among regular Yankees starters behind Domingo German (2.50) and CC Sabathia (2.97). Paxton was at 3.11 before going on the injured list with a sore knee. J.A. Happ brings up the rear at 4.44.

“Really good,” Boone said of the group overall. “Not talked about enough.”

Yankees starters have been better than expected. But the team, like most, is not deep in that department; hence Sunday’s opener.

In the pre-opener days, you’d just pluck your top starter from Triple-A and pitch him. But the Yankees obviously have little faith in Chance Adams and Nestor Cortes Jr. Both Triple-A starters currently reside in the Yankees' bullpen but have not been tapped for Sunday.

As we said, the Rays’ way of thinking has taken over baseball. Perhaps that’s why hardly anyone in the ballpark flinched when Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash used a four-man outfield against Gleyber Torres in a 1-1 game in the ninth inning.

Torres, with pastures of infield available to him for a potential leadoff single, swung for the fences and struck out.

That’s baseball, right? It is today. For better or worse.

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