Yankees: Why Masahiro Tanaka’s ‘Mild’ Concussion Still Cause for Concern

New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /
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New York Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka has a ‘mild’ concussion, but that doesn’t mean all that much.

Yankees fans should know by now that concussion evaluation is an inexact science.

It feels, on this Monday morning, that the team has dodged a bullet in the way that Masahiro Tanaka couldn’t, when a 112 MPH pill off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton had him reevaluating his L-screen preference.

Tanaka returned to camp on Sunday after being discharged from the hospital late on July 4, and by all accounts was acting like his normal self. His concussion was mild, his spirits were high, and his behavior was normal enough.

That’s what you’d expect from a bulldog, after all, and Tanaka delivered. We think.

Keep in mind that we didn’t hear from Tanaka himself. We didn’t see him. We got Aaron Boone wiping sweat off his brow, and Brett Gardner serving as stenographer, letting us know how his pitcher was acting.

We’re all hoping that, Brett, but it still seems too soon to know.

After one day, it appeared Tanaka was behaving normally, and he certainly didn’t give his public-facing teammates any indications that he was already battling demons. All discussions of physical limitations aside, we can’t let the psychological impact slide. When Giancarlo Stanton was struck in the jaw with a pitch in 2014, it shattered his psyche as well as his bone, and began a lifelong grudge against future Astros whistleblower Mike Fiers.

Tanaka won’t suddenly fall out of favor with his own teammate, but it would only be natural for him to come back a bit gun shy and nervous about tossing another hanger, in the same way that Stanton’s facial fractures backed him off the plate faster than any brushback. The season begins in just over two weeks. It lasts only two months. For Tanaka to flip a readiness switch that soon is a lot to ask.

And, on top of everything, we can’t forget the last time the Yankees saw a season derailed by a concussion: Clint Frazier’s in 2018, which was also deemed mild.

Two days later, the tenor of that conversation changed entirely. Frazier was tortured during those “few days” off, and the headaches that continued to plague him threatened his entire season.

The intent of this column is not to portend doom for Masahiro Tanaka — it’s to preach caution.

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While his teammates may deem his behavior normal, and while all those around him were encouraged by the diagnosis and the “Same Old Tanaka” they encountered on Sunday, only he knows what that line drive to the head took from him.

And we’ll know soon enough.