One way or another, Yanks will learn something about Tanaka’s elbow on Sunday

(Brian Blanco/Getty)
(Brian Blanco/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon the Yankees announced Masahiro Tanaka will make his (hopefully) triumphant return to the rotation on Sunday after more than two months on the shelf with a partially torn elbow ligament. Unfortunately the team is out of the postseason race, so there won’t be a fun “Tanaka comes back from his injury and leads the Yankees to October” storyline to follow. Bummer. That really would have been something.

Tanaka has spent the last two months rehabbing the ligament tear and the last six weeks actively working his way back with bullpen sessions and simulated games. He threw 65 pitches during his most intense simulated game on Monday and apparently that was enough to convince the Yankees he is ready for game action. Tanaka will be limited to 70-75 pitches on Sunday, plus there’s even enough time left in the season for him to make another start after that.

Now, this entire situation is sorta weird. Four doctors (four!) advised Tanaka to rehab his injury rather than undergo Tommy John surgery, but there’s still a chance he will need to go under the knife. In fact, it’s almost an inevitability. Once the ligament starts to tear, even a tiny little bit like Tanaka’s, it’s usually only a matter of time before it goes. It could blow on Sunday, it could blow in April, it could blow in 2023. Adam Wainwright pitched five years with a partial tear before his elbow gave out. Ervin Santana’s been pitching with one since 2009.

No one has any idea when the elbow will give out and that’s why Tanaka is pitching this weekend. To find out if it will happen immediately. The alternative is what, spend the winter resting and rehabbing and hoping it will improve his chances of delaying surgery some small percentage without guaranteeing anything? If four doctors tell you to rehab your $175M pitcher, then you rehab your $175M pitcher. And if he competes his rehab and is healthy enough to pitch, you let him pitch. Going against doctors’ orders in any way would be the most irresponsible thing ever. Fireable offense, no doubt.

“More than anything, I want to see if my body is able to go fully on a Major League mound. Pitch on the mound,” said Tanaka to Chad Jennings yesterday. “That’s by far, (more than) anything, most important to me. Also, the fact that, to be able to contribute in the team’s win would be something important to me too … Even if it’s short, if I’m able to go out there and have a strong outing, it’ll give me some good confidence (that the elbow has healed).”

Tanaka made it clear he wants to test his elbow and see how it holds up before the season lets out. And you know what? I don’t blame him one bit. Put yourself in his shoes. You know you have this ticking time bomb in your elbow, so would you rather see what happens in a meaningless game or two late in the season or having it linger in the back of your mind all winter? Making it through two starts with the elbow intact doesn’t mean the Yankees will be able to pencil him in for 230 innings next year, but it will allow Tanaka to go home for the winter with some peace of mind and that’s important.

So, one of two things will happen when Tanaka starts this weekend. Either he’ll blow out the elbow and need Tommy John surgery, or he’ll come through it healthy and go into the winter feeling good about things. In either case, the Yankees have to approach the offseason assuming Tanaka will miss a lot of time in 2015. They have to prepare for the worst case scenario in this situation no matter what. But there is value in finding out whether he needs surgery right now. There’s also value in letting your ace have a clear mind all winter. The Yankees aren’t sending Tanaka out there recklessly, the doctors are behind them. This is simply the next step in the process.

Because New York is out of the postseason race, they can afford to let Tanaka pitch on Sunday even though he himself admitted he is still rusty following the long layoff. Losing that game won’t matter. Maybe things would be different if they were closer to the second wildcard spot, but I’m guessing not. Either way, Sunday is an important day for Tanaka as well as the 2015 Yankees. The health of his elbow is paramount to the team’s success going forward and this weekend he’ll test it out in game action for the first time, which is the biggest step in his rehab.

Tanaka tentatively scheduled to return to rotation on Sunday

(Mike Stobe/Getty)
(Mike Stobe/Getty)

After more than two months on the shelf, Masahiro Tanaka will return to the rotation this weekend. Joe Girardi announced that his ace right-hander is tentatively scheduled to start this coming Sunday. He will be limited to 70-75 pitches. The Yankees will have to make a 40-man roster move to accommodate Tanaka coming off the 60-day DL, but that’s no big deal. You won’t even notice Chaz Roe is gone.

Tanaka threw 65 pitches during a five-inning simulated game on Monday. He did get knocked around a little bit but the most important thing is that he came through it healthy. Tanaka, who played catch today, said he feels good and has no problems with his elbow. The partially torn ligament hasn’t bothered him for a few weeks now. He is rusty, though that is to be expected.

There is enough time left in the season for Tanaka to make two starts with the Yankees, though he told reporters one will be enough to give him peace of mind heading into the offseason. These final two starts are about testing the elbow and finding out whether he needs Tommy John surgery now or at some point in the future. The Yankees are out of the race, so it doesn’t matter if they win or lose his starts because he isn’t sharp.

Four doctors advised Tanaka and the Yankees to rehab the injury rather than go under the knife, which is what they’ve done. All the pitchers who have had complications following Tommy John surgery in the last year or two (Ryan Madson, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Daniel Hudson, Cory Luebke, Jarrod Parker, etc.) are a harsh reminder that the procedure isn’t fullproof. So far everything has gone well and hopefully that continues Sunday.

Update: Prado out for season following appendectomy, Yankees call up Jose Pirela

12:05pm: The Yankees officially announced Prado is done for the year following the appendectomy. He has been placed on the 60-day DL and utility man Jose Pirela was called up. Pirela, 24, hit .305/.351/.441 (117 wRC+) with ten homers and 15 steals with Triple-A Scranton this year. He was due to become a minor league free agent after the season and was a borderline 40-man roster candidate.

11:12am: Martin Prado will likely miss the remainder of the season after undergoing an emergency appendectomy, according to Meredith Marakovits. The season ends in 12 days and most players need several weeks to recover from an appendectomy, though Matt Holliday only missed seven games following the procedure a few years ago. Holliday is the exception, not the rule. The Yankees are out of the race and there’s no sense in rushing Prado back though. Let him heal up and get ready for next year.

Tanaka hit hard but feels good after 65-pitch simulated game

4:50pm: Joe Girardi told reporters it is “very possible” Tanaka will return to the rotation this weekend. They need to see how he feels the next few days before making any final decisions though.

2:30pm: Masahiro Tanaka threw a simulated game against a bunch of minor leaguers at the Yankees’ complex in Tampa today, as scheduled. He threw 65 pitches across five shutout innings, allowing six hits and no walks while striking out four. Chad Jennings has a recap of the action and says several of the hits were well-struck. Meredith Marakovits says Tanaka topped out at 92 mph.

Following the simulated game, Tanaka told reporters he felt good but is unsure if he is ready to pitch in a big league game. He wants to see how he feels in the coming days and will consult with the club before finalizing a plan going forward. Tanaka reportedly did not seem to be concerned about his performance because it wasn’t real game action. Dan Barbarisi interpreted his comments as “yeah, physically, I can pitch in the Majors next, but I don’t know how sharp I’m going to be,” for what it’s worth.

At this point there is only enough time for Tanaka to make two more appearances this season, assuming normal rest. That means two MLB games, two simulated games, or one simulated game and one MLB start. If he had come through today’s simulated game with zero problems, I think he would have started for the Yankees this coming weekend. But because he wasn’t sharp and sounds a little tentative, I’m guessing he’ll throw another simulated game in the coming days. Then again, the Yankees are out of the race and are only concerned the health of his elbow, not results.

Beltran resumes taking swings, will not have surgery until after season

For the first time since being scratched from Wednesday’s game with soreness in his elbow, Carlos Beltran was able to take swings yesterday, according to Chad Jennings. He took 20 light swings against soft toss pitches. Beltran told David Waldstein he feels a little bit better and will not have the bone spur surgically removed from his elbow until after the season matter what. He is trying to come back and play.

Beltran, 37, is hitting .236/.305/.409 (97 wRC+) with 15 homers this season, though he has put up a .265/.351/.420 (119 wRC+) batting line in the second half. The Yankees are essentially out of postseason contention and there’s no real reason to delay the surgery. Waiting an extra two or three weeks won’t be that big of a deal — it’s two-month rehab and supposedly will not interfere with his offseason routine — but there’s always a chance Beltran could somehow make it worse by continuing to play through the injury.

Updates: Tests come back clean after Headley takes pitch to chin

7:31pm: Headley visited a neurologist and all tests came back clean. He escaped the beaning with just a cut on his chin. Headley has rejoined the team — the YES cameras showed him in the dugout during tonight’s game — but he is still a few days from returning to the lineup.

11:42am: Tests showed no fractures after Chase Headley was hit in the chin by a Jake McGee fastball in the ninth inning of last night’s game, Joe Girardi announced. He didn’t even need stitches. Scratch that, he did need some stitches. Headley does still need to see a neurologist before being cleared to play. Good news though, that was a really scary moment last night.

Update: Headley heading for x-rays after taking pitch to chin

10:28pm: Headley is heading for x-rays and additional tests on his jaw and will not leave with the team when they travel to Baltimore tonight.

10:07pm: Chase Headley left tonight’s game in the ninth inning after taking a Jake McGee fastball to the chin. He was down on the ground for several minutes and there was blood, but he seemed to be responsive. Team doctor Dr. Ahmad even came out to check on him, which you rarely see. Headley eventually walked off the field under his own power. Scary, scary stuff. Stay tuned for any updates.