Since the news of Masahiro Tanaka‘s injury broke and the subsequent plan to rehab the injury rather than undergo Tommy John surgery, the number of individuals who believe they are qualified to make medical decisions without any formal training or knowledge of the patient has risen exponentially. This sudden outburst of vast medical knowledge was not limited to fans turned board certified physicians on Twitter or other social media. Many media members also blasted the idea of rehab on TV and sports radio. Fortunately for Tanaka and the Yankees, the decision was made by three separate distinguished doctors who actually ran medical tests and came to a unanimous recommendation for rehab over surgery.
There has been growing support for attempting to rehab the injury instead of immediately opting for Tommy John surgery. This is especially true in cases where the UCL tear is very small, as is the case with Tanaka. The results are admittedly mixed as far as the rehab goes and if the rehab fails the player will need the surgery anyway. Effectively, if the rehab doesn’t work then an additional 6-8 weeks have been added to the recovery time. Hence most fans and sportswriters feel that if there is a chance that you will need the surgery anyway, you might as well just get the surgery done sooner rather than later. The problem is that is despite the high rate of recovery for pitchers with Tommy John surgery, there has been an uptick on second Tommy John surgeries and player recovery has been less guaranteed than even just a few years ago.
Tanaka is only 25 years old and signed with the Yankees for another six seasons after this one. It is in the Yankees best interest to institute a recovery that will keep him on he field the greatest amount of time. This decision cannot be all about 2014. While there is a chance Tanaka will return this season by rehabbing the elbow, the surgery would put the Japanese import on the shelf for 12-18 months. The rehab will take about six weeks at which time Tanaka will need to work his arm strength and pitch counts back up. Best case scenario for Tanaka’s return would be sometime in September. Although the Yankees would be wise to shut Tanaka down for the rest of the year. The risk of re-injury for a few starts this season seems like a bad bet.
The Yankees are listening to doctors with regards to the best treatment for the most valuable arm in the organization. Hopefully Tanaka will be able to rehab the injury successfully and be back at full strength for Spring Training in 2015. Things can always change but assuming this team continues to meander at the outskirts of the playoff picture, it would behoove the Yankees to shut down Tanaka for the remainder of the season. The risk of injury is too high for a handful of starts for a team on the outside looking on of the playoffs. The key is simply to remember that the goal for Tanaka is for him to pitch as much as possible over the course of his contract and not to maximize the number of 2014 starts.