This is the one story or column that no New York City based sports writer wanted to write, however here we are.
After consulting with three different doctors in Seattle on Thursday, Yankees rookie ace Masahiro Tanaka was diagnosed with a partial UCL tear in his right elbow, sidelining him for six weeks. The earliest Tanaka could return would be Aug. 21 (six weeks). He is currently on the 15-day disabled list.
“All three physicians conveyed that this is a small tear in the ligament,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi stressed that it’s just a slight tear, according to a tweet by Yankee beat writer for the New York Daily News Mark Feinsand.
Cashman: “All three physicians conveyed that this is a SMALL tear in the ligament.” Said if the recommendation had been TJ, he’d have TJ.
— Mark Feinsand (@FeinsandNYDN) July 11, 2014
In the meantime, the 25-year old right-hander will not need Tommy John surgery, as he will undergo a treatment that includes a PRP injection, a lot of rest and, eventually, a throwing program that will have Tanaka back on the mound around the end of August with the Yankees in a hopeful playoff push. “That’s our hope,” Cashman said in a conference call Thursday evening. “Obviously timeframes are subject to change.” Cashman also said that the Yanks have had other pitchers go through the same treatment, however he didn’t name anyone in particular. Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan noted that it’s not unheard of for pitchers to throw with slightly torn UCL’s.
Pitchers can throw with partially torn UCLs. Adam Wainwright’s lasted for half a decade before it blew out. But he is the truest exception. — Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) July 11, 2014
Unfortunately, if the treatment does not work, Tanaka will be forced to undergo Tommy John surgery which would cost him the final month of the season and probably all of 2015.
The tear is a new injury to both Tanaka and the Yankees. Before the Yanks signed the Japanese ace to his seven-year, $155 million deal earlier this year, they examined him and nothing showed up on the MRI.
With Tanaka out, the Yankees are without four of their five Opening Day starting pitchers as 33-year old Hiroki Kuroda remains as the last man standing. The Yanks are in a very desperate situation as, at this point, they will have to find a another quality starter to help keep the Yankee ship afloat for the rest of July and August.
Newly-acquired right-hander Brandon McCarthy was decent in his Yankee debut, pitching a strong 6 2/3 innings, allowing one earned run on nine hits while striking out three.
But they’ll need more than McCarthy if the Yankees want even a chance at the AL East pennant. Currently, the Yankees are just three games behind the first-place Baltimore Orioles in the division going into Thursday night’s game in Cleveland, and have a chance to either be in first place or tied for first after their weekend series against the O’s.
“We’ve been aggressive,” Cashman mentioned. “We will continue to be aggressive unless I’m told otherwise.”
The Yankees have been linked with the likes of both Phillies pitchers Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and Rays ace David Price. They could also try to go after a right-hander like Colorado’s Jorge De La Rosa (9-6, 4.75 ERA, 70 K in 18 starts) or even take a shot at the Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo (5-5, 3.45 ERA, 83 K in 18 starts) if Milwaukee does in fact make him available.
They would also be smart to look at Phillies right-hander Kyle Kendrick (4-8, 4.46 ERA, 71 K in 18 starts). Kendrick isn’t as sexy of a name compared to Hamels, Lee or Price, however Kendrick has thrown over 180 innings twice in the last four years, and thrown over 150 innings the last two years straight.
Although the Yankees (again) don’t have a valuable farm system, there are a few bright spots.
Outfielders Tyler Austin (.255, 10 HR, 66 RBI in three seasons in Double-A), and possibly Aaron Judge (.318, 12 HR, 60 RBI in 84 games between Single-A and High-A) could be brought up in trade talks as high value prospects should the Yankees decide to deal any of them before the July 31 trade deadline.
With the Yankees ship on the verge of sinking, Yanks GM Brian Cashman has to figure out a way to keep them afloat while their ace pitcher rehabs for the next six weeks. He also has to hope that the rehab goes well because if Tanaka does have to have Tommy John surgery, the Yankees shot at the playoffs won’t come in 2014, or maybe not even 2015.
For the next six weeks, New York continues to hold its breath.