Tanaka resumes throwing, makes 50 throws from 60 feet

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

Last week the Yankees placed ace Masahiro Tanaka on the 15-day DL with wrist tendinitis and a supposedly minor forearm strain. At the time, Brian Cashman said the right-hander would be shut down 7-10 days before resuming baseball activities.

It has now been eight days since Tanaka was placed on the DL, and this afternoon Tanaka threw for the first time since getting hurt. He played catch and made 50 throws at a distance of 60 feet, so it was nothing intense, but this is only the first step. Tanaka reported no problems and I assume he’ll throw again at some point this weekend.

Tanaka, 26, was unhappy with being placed on the DL because the doctors said the injury was very minor, according to Jon Heyman. The Yankees decided to play it safe for obvious reasons. Cashman confirmed the MRI showed no damage to Tanaka’s elbow ligament, but still, forearm strains tend to lead to ligament problems, so this injury is a red flag.

Tanaka is expected to “conservatively” miss a month between being shut down and getting built back up again, though of course the Yankees are going to be very careful with his rehab no matter what kind of shape the MLB rotation is in. Chris Capuano may only be another week away from returning and Ivan Nova‘s about a month away as well.

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Game 22: Big Mike for the Sweep

BIG MIKE IS HERE

Usually Michael Pineda starts are a reason to celebrate. Big Mike is awesome. Today is a little different though. Pineda is starting this afternoon because Masahiro Tanaka is out with a wrist/forearm issue that will “conservatively” keep him out about a month. Like I said, Big Mike is awesome. But Big Mike and a healthy Tanaka would be even more awesome.

Anyway, the Yankees are on a roll right now, winning three straight and ten of their last 12 games overall. I wouldn’t say they’re firing on all cylinders, but I do think it’s fair to say the Yankees appear to be playing as well as they did at any point from 2013-14. Maybe better. Things are going pretty well despite Tanaka’s injury. Here is Tampa Bay’s lineup and here is New York’s lineup as the Yankees go for the sweep:

  1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury
  2. LF Chris Young
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. RF Carlos Beltran
  6. 3B Chase Headley
  7. C John Ryan Murphy
  8. 2B Gregorio Petit
  9. SS Didi Gregorius
    RHP Michael Pineda

It’s a glorious day in New York. Bright blue sky, temperatures in the low-70s, just a perfect afternoon for baseball. This afternoon’s game is set to begin at 1:05pm ET and can be seen on YES locally and, depending where you live, MLB Network nationally. Enjoy the game.

Roster Move: As expected, Tanaka was placed on the 15-day DL with “right wrist tendinitis and a right forearm strain,” the Yankees announced. Petit was recalled from Triple-A Scranton in a corresponding move. The Yankees didn’t have to wait the ten days to bring him back because of Tanaka’s injury.

Thoughts following Masahiro Tanaka’s injury

(Jim McIsaac/Getty)
(Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The Yankees won for the tenth time in 12 games last night, clinching their fourth straight series win, yet it was a bad day for the team overall. Masahiro Tanaka unexpectedly went down with wrist tendinitis and a “small” forearm strain, injuries that will “conservatively” keep him out for a month according to Brian Cashman. This is bad. This is a very bad thing. So I have thoughts to share.

1. There is no such thing as a “small” or “minor” or “slight” forearm strain for Tanaka. Forearm strains are very common precursors to Tommy John surgery and he already went through the whole partially torn elbow ligament thing last year. The wrist issue is whatever. The forearm strain is the real concern. I’m one of those people who think the Yankees and Tanaka absolutely did the right thing last year by rehabbing the ligament tear. Do exactly what the doctors recommend. Coming back from Tommy John surgery is hard. We never know the full story with injuries, all we know is what is what the team is willing to tell us, and based on everything we know about Tanaka’s elbow, I think trying to avoid surgery was an easy call. This new forearm strain doesn’t change that. It’s a scary injury given his situation, there’s no arguing that, but it doesn’t make the decision to rehab the injury the wrong one in my opinion. Listen to the doctors! That’s common sense, right?

2. As we’ve seen the last few years, the Yankees are not the type of team that will go out and make a knee-jerk trade following Tanaka’s injury. They’ll cycle through their internal options first before going outside the organization for help. When Ivan Nova got hurt last year, Vidal Nuno stepped in. When CC Sabathia went down, it was Chase Whitley. When Tanaka got hurt, Shane Greene got his chance. I expect the Yankees to do the same now. Joe Girardi already confirmed Whitley will remain in the rotation for the time being, and Bryan Mitchell is another option down in Triple-A. Chris Capuano (quad) is pitching in Extended Spring Training games and is expected to be back in mid-May, so Whitley and Mitchell only have to hold down the fort until then. Nova (elbow) is a little further away and not due back until June. Whitley and Mitchell are Plan A. Capuano is Plan B. Nova is Plan C. Hopefully they don’t need a Plan D. The Yankees might bring in a depth arm — like Capuano last year — but otherwise I wouldn’t get my hopes expecting a trade for a noteworthy starter anytime soon.

3. Now, that said, of course the Yankees will keep an eye on the trade market for a starter. They do that literally 365 days a year. Someone might become available who could help and I’m sure they’d pull the trigger if it makes sense. Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto are the big names, but the Yankees figure to face some stiff competition for those guys (Red Sox, Dodgers, Cardinals) and I’m not sure they have the prospect power to make it work anyway. They might have to scour the trade market for second tier (Kyle Lohse? Matt Garza?) or even third tier (Aaron Harang? Dan Haren?) rotation options. A repeat of the McCarthy trade would be ideal — buy low on someone, make some tweaks, get a few weeks of high-end performance. I’m not sure doing that again is realistic, at least not to extent McCarthy worked out, and I’m not even sure who would be a candidate for such a move. Yovani Gallardo? Point is, if the Yankees do make a trade for pitching, I don’t think it’ll be a big one.

(Severino on Twitter)
(Severino on Twitter)

4. I do not think the Yankees should turn to Luis Severino to replace Tanaka. Not right now. Tanaka’s injury shouldn’t change Severino’s timetable at all. His development path isn’t any different today than it was 24 hours ago. Severino has made three Double-A starts this year and he’s been excellent (2.40 ERA and 2.01 FIP), but he’s yet to top 88 pitches in an outing and I’m not sure he’s capable of going through a big lineup multiple times at this point. The Yankees have moved Severino up the ladder pretty aggressively the last two years and I’m sure he’ll be up with Triple-A Scranton sooner rather than later. Maybe he’ll be a big league option later in the season, say July or August. Right now is not the time though. Whitley and Mitchell are perfectly fine fill-in starters until Capuano and eventually Nova return. Severino’s development is not something to screw around with in the wake of this unfortunate yet not entirely unpredictable Tanaka injury.

5. With Tanaka out, the Yankees really need Sabathia to step up and be more of a factor every fifth day. Nathan Eovaldi still has some things in his game to develop and I don’t think it’s fair to ask him to take an immediate step forward to pick up the slack. Sabathia has to be the guy. He’s the grizzled vet, the guy making big bucks, the one who knows how to be a horse and lead a staff. It has now been more than two full years since Sabathia was even an average MLB starter, so expecting him to be that sort of pitcher is probably unrealistic. He can still spare the bullpen every fifth day though and that will be a big help. Six innings every time out, occasionally seven, that sort of thing. The Yankees need Sabathia to be an innings eater to ease the load on the rest of the staff, because the bullpen has worked a lot already this year and they only figure to work more now that Tanaka is injured. Sabathia’s gotta step up.

Update: Tanaka headed to 15-day DL with “small” forearm strain

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

8:29pm: An MRI showed Tanaka has tendinitis in his wrist and a “small” forearm strain, Brian Cashman told reporters at Yankee Stadium. There is no change to his UCL. He will be placed on the 15-day DL and will “conservatively” miss about a month according to GM. Considering the elbow issue last year, there’s no such thing as a “small” forearm strain for Tanaka.

Here is Cashman talking about the injury:

8:17pm: According to George King, Masahiro Tanaka is not at Yankee Stadium tonight and it is “believed” he went for tests on his right wrist. The Yankees have not confirmed anything. Marly Rivera says Tanaka did not speak to the Japanese media this afternoon, which he usually does the day before a start.

Tanaka has never had any wrist problems as best I can tell. He missed all that time with the partial ligament tear in his elbow last season, and a few years ago he missed some starts with the Rakuten Golden Eagles due to a shoulder issue, but that’s all. No other injuries from what I can find.

Obviously losing Tanaka for any length of time would be pretty devastating to the Yankees. His last two starts have been pretty awesome, vintage Tanaka, and that guy is impossible to replace. Stay tuned for any updates.

Biggest issue for Masahiro Tanaka is trust in his elbow, not fastball velocity

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees opened the 2015 season with a 6-1 loss to the Blue Jays. Masahiro Tanaka started out very strong, with dominant first and second innings, then quickly unraveled and allowed five runs (four earned) in the third. He pitched into and out of danger in the fourth and left the game after 82 pitches, the last 50 or so of which were pretty high-stress.

Tanaka’s velocity was a hot topic both before and after the game. It has been for a week or two now. Tanaka said in Spring Training he’s not focused on velocity because he’s throwing more sinking two-seamers, then he doubled down on Saturday by saying he doesn’t expect the velocity to return. Nothing was lost in translation. Tanaka made it clear velocity is a secondary concern this season.

PitchFX says Tanaka averaged 92.5 mph and 91.1 mph with his four-seamer and sinker yesterday, respectively, down negligibly from 92.7 mph and 91.4 mph last year. He did top out at 94.5 mph yesterday, so it’s not like he was out there with Jered Weaver velocity. Most pitchers add a tick or to as the season progresses and the weather heats up, and if Tanaka hadn’t done so much talking about his velocity this spring, we wouldn’t have even noticed it yesterday.

What stands out to me more than the raw radar gun readings is this: 27. Tanaka threw 27 fastballs out of 82 total pitches yesterday. Five four-seamers and 22 sinkers. That’s all. Before the elbow injury last year, Tanaka threw about 40% fastballs and 60% offspeed pitches. Yesterday it was roughly 30% and 70% overall and even more drastic late in his outing — only six of Tanaka’s final 33 pitches were fastballs (18%). He flat out abandoned his heater.

When asked about his lack of fastballs after the game, Tanaka said it was “because they were being hit,” which makes sense. It wasn’t just actual hits either. There were a lot of foul balls and balls in play off his four-seamer and sinker as well. The Blue Jays didn’t swing and miss once at those 27 four-seamers and sinkers, so they were getting the bat on his fastball each time they swung.

Clearly Tanaka is tentative with his fastball right now. Is it mental or physical? Who the hell knows. Considering he did reach back and top out 94.5 mph yesterday, my guess is mental. After the elbow issue last year, I would totally understand if Tanaka was hesitant to cut it loose. Heck, I had a tooth fixed last year and I didn’t chew on that side of my mouth for months even though the dentist said it was fine. I get it.

The weird part of all this is Tanaka is apparently holding back with his fastball but is still willing to throw sliders and splitters seven out of every ten pitches. We’ve heard for years and years that sliders and splitters are bad for the elbow, especially when thrown a lot, so if Tanaka is still concerned about his elbow, you’d expect him to throw fewer non-fastballs, not more. Right? Tanaka abandoning his splitter would be a major red flag. Tanaka abandoning his fastball is just weird.

As good as his offspeed pitches are — Tanaka threw 55 non-fastballs yesterday and got a dozen swing and misses (22%), which is outstanding — Tanaka can’t go through the season throwing 30% fastballs. No non-knuckleballer can. The lowest percentage of fastballs thrown by a non-knuckleball qualified starter during the PitchFX era is 35.5% by … wait for it … 2008 Mike Mussina. Even late-career Moose and his mid-80s gas threw more fastballs on average than Tanaka yesterday.

Hopefully yesterday’s game was just step one for Tanaka. Step one towards feeling normal and trusting the elbow. Like I said, I totally understand why he would be tentative to cut it loose, but this can’t last forever. Hopefully as the season progresses and he realizes that hey, I’m healthy, Tanaka will gain more faith in his fastball and get back to being where he was before the injury last year. The guy we saw yesterday was a reliever. Not someone who can turn a lineup over multiple turns. The Yankees need much more than that from Tanaka.

“Physically, he seems to be fine,” said pitching coach Larry Rothschild to Chad Jennings yesterday. “I’ve watched him between starts all spring, play catch in between, and he’s building arm strength still. We went slow early in the spring, knowing that it’s going to be a work in progress, really. I think he’s holding his own right now. This isn’t the results that you anticipate or want, but I think you have to be reasonable the way you look at things. He is building arm strength and will continue to. There were positives with the split today, it was really good, and I think you’ll see him — as he stays healthy, you’ll see him pitch the way he has in the past.”

Yankees finalize Opening Day roster with latest round of roster moves

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

3:25pm: The Yankees have officially announced their Opening Day roster. It is exactly as presented below. No surprises.

10:00am: The Opening Day roster has been slowly coming together over the last several weeks, and yesterday afternoon the Yankees made the roster all but official with their latest round of moves, including Austin Romine being designated for assignment. Here is the 25-man roster the Yankees will take into the regular season tomorrow:

CATCHERS (2)
Brian McCann
John Ryan Murphy

INFIELDERS (7)
Stephen Drew
Didi Gregorius
Chase Headley
Garrett Jones
Gregorio Petit
Alex Rodriguez
Mark Teixeira

OUTFIELDERS (4)
Carlos Beltran
Brett Gardner
Jacoby Ellsbury
Chris Young

STARTERS (5)
Nathan Eovaldi
Michael Pineda
CC Sabathia
Masahiro Tanaka
Adam Warren

RELIEVERS (7)
Dellin Betances
David Carpenter
Chris Martin
Andrew Miller
Esmil Rogers
Chasen Shreve
Justin Wilson

DISABLED LIST (4)
Chris Capuano (quad) — retroactive to March 27th
Ivan Nova (Tommy John surgery) — retroactive to March 27th
Jose Pirela (concussion) — retroactive to April 2nd
Brendan Ryan (calf) — retroactive to April 1st

Pirela was placed on the 7-day concussion DL while Capuano, Nova, and Ryan were all placed on the regular old 15-day DL. Petit takes Romine’s spot on the 40-man roster, which is full. The Yankees can transfer Nova to the 60-day DL whenever they need another 40-man spot since he’s not expected to return until June. Romine, Petit, and the DL assignments were the moves announced yesterday.

Despite those injuries, the Yankees made it through Spring Training as the healthiest team in the AL East, just as we all expected. The rest of the roster is pretty straight forward. Warren was named the fifth starter a few days ago and it was clear Shreve and Martin were going to make the Opening Day roster once Chase Whitley was optioned to Triple-A. Joe Girardi is planning to use Betances and Miller as co-closers to start the season, which is pretty cool. Hopefully it works as planned. Carpenter and Wilson figure to be the sixth and seventh inning guys.

As always, the 25-man roster is going to change throughout the course of the season. Quite a bit too. Petit figures to be replaced by Pirela or Ryan, whoever gets healthy first, and those bullpen spots belonging to Shreve and Martin could be revolving doors given the team’s relief pitcher depth. That includes Capuano, who could wind up working in relief if Warren fares well as the fifth starter. For now, this is the group of Yankees to start the new season.

Masahiro Tanaka named Opening Day starter, rotation order announced

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

As expected, Masahiro Tanaka was officially named the Opening Day starter by Joe Girardi this morning, according to the many reporters in Tampa. He will be followed in order by Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, and the fifth starter to open the season. Girardi declined to name the fifth starter but all signs point to it being Adam Warren.

Sabathia has started the last six Opening Days for the Yankees. The team’s last Opening Day starter before him was Chien-Ming Wang in 2008. Yeah, it’s been a while. It was clear Sabathia would not get the Opening Day nod when it was announced he is scheduled to start tomorrow’s game. The schedule doesn’t line up. Sabathia has played in 14 MLB seasons and has started Opening Day in eleven of them. That’s kinda nuts.

As for Tanaka, he is not only the team’s best pitcher, but starting Opening Day allows him to get an extra day of rest prior to his second and third starts of the season thanks to scheduled off-days on April 7th and 16th. The Yankees have said they would like to get him extra rest whenever possible, especially early in the season thanks to the whole elbow issue. The club won’t need to use a sixth starter to make that happen for at least a few weeks.

Believe it or not, Tanaka only started one Opening Day with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, so this will be his second career Opening Day start and first in pinstripes. Hideo Nomo (2000 Tigers, 2003-04 Dodgers), Daisuke Matsuzaka (2008 Red Sox), and Hiroki Kuroda (2009 Dodgers) are the only other Japanese pitchers to start Opening Day in MLB history. Yu Darvish was slated to start Opening Day for the Rangers this year before blowing out his elbow.

The Yankees open the regular season at home against the Blue Jays on April 6th. Toronto has not yet announced their rotation but apparently Drew Hutchison is lined up for Opening Day. I’m guessing R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle will follow in some order. The Yankees play three games against the Jays then three games against the Red Sox at home before going out on a ten-game road trip through Baltimore, Tampa Bay, and Detroit to start 2015.