The Yankees’ hope to have an ace up their sleeve for the stretch run was dealt a major blow on Friday. Masahiro Tanaka, who is rehabing a partially torn UCL in the elbow rather than undergoing Tommy John surgery, is heading back to New York from Toronto after feeling “general soreness” a day after his latest bullpen session. Tanaka had thus far been progressing in his rehab and was cautiously projected as being able to return to the New York rotation by the middle of September. The return of Tanaka could have shifted the power in the race for the second wild card in the Yankees favor. Now it appears that the cavalry will not becoming to rescue this season.
Tanaka was the brightest star in the Bronx for the first half of the season. A highly-touted Japanese import who signed with the Yankees for $151 million in the off-season, Tanaka was everything that was advertised. But all the innings pitched in Japan and the strain of his signature pitch, the split-finger fastball, took a toll on his powerful right arm. An MRI revealed a small tear in his elbow. If the tear was bigger, like teammate Ivan Nova‘s was earlier this season, Tanaka would have undergone Tommy John surgery and been out until the second half of the 2015 season at the earliest. Instead, encouraged by the fact that the tear was relatively slight, the Yankees and their doctors were fooled into thinking that rehab would be a viable option. Now if surgery is required and the procedure has been delayed for two months, Tanaka will likely miss the entire 2015 season.
The Bombers took a chance with Tanaka’s long term health. They bet that he would be able to rehab the elbow instead of going under the knife, despite the lack of examples of successful rehab. The doctors agreed with the plan, so it’s not totally the Yankees fault and there was no foul play. But the Yankees came up snake eyes nonetheless. Tanaka will learn his fate in the next few days. Hopefully, he can resume his rehab without interruption. But the last thing the Yankees need is for any further delays, if Tanaka in fact needs surgery. When you are dealing with such a long recovery, the sooner it begins, the sooner he will be back on the mound.