The New York Post reports that New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka has left the team to get an MRI on his right arm. An All-Star in his first season after coming from Japan as a free agent and signing for $155 million, Tanaka has performed better than most other pitchers in the majors. Tanaka, 25, dominated from April through June, but his past two starts yielded disappointing results — a combined nine runs and 19 hits — numbers that now appear alarming.
The Yanks put him on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday with elbow inflammation. Tanaka's numbers overall: 2.51 ERA with with 135 strikeouts in 129 1/3 innings. He's pitched a league-leading three complete games with one shutout. The Yankees have a 13-5 record in his starts.
Kojii Uehara of the Red Sox reportedly is first on a list of replacements to take Tanaka's spot on the American League's All-Star roster.
The good news: Tanaka's velocity did not fall off during his previous start Tuesday. According to Brooks Baseball, he thew harder than he has all season. However, he did show a velocity drop on July 3 and, two starts before that, June 22. Further, he relies on the split-finger fastball, a pitch that puts more strain on the elbow than regular fastballs. Another factor, King notes: Pitchers in Japan started once every seven days, opposed to once per five in the majors.
Getting an MRI might be a mere precaution, but if the results show a worst-case scenario — damage to the UCL in his elbow that requires surgery — Tanaka's loss would cripple the Yankees and he would be another fallen star claimed by an epidemic of elbow injuries. A list compiled by Yahoo Sports reporter Jeff Passan says at least 60 players — not all pitchers and not all major leaguers — have gotten Tommy John ligament replacement surgery since Jan. 1.
The Yankees already have lost CC Sabathia to a knee injury; it's possible he might not pitch again in 2014. Michael Pineda has been shelved with shoulder problems for most of the season as well, and Ivan Nova had Tommy John.
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