Masahiro Tanaka, after just 18 starts among the game’s elite pitchers, on Wednesday left the New York Yankees in Cleveland for an MRI tube in New York. The New York Post reported the news and a moment later a National League general manager tapped his thoughts into a text message: “Always something. Every day.”
By mid-afternoon, the information on Tanaka remained vague, though the Yankees announced he had elbow inflammation and placed him on the disabled list. He’d suffered his worst start as a Yankee the night before against the Indians, allowing 10 hits, two of them home runs, and five runs in 6 2/3 innings. His previous start, five days before in Minnesota, was only marginally better. Manager Joe Girardi told reporters Tanaka did not complain of discomfort in the elbow area until late Tuesday night, after his start.
And while the Yankees might’ve begun to wonder why Tanaka of the big fastball, killer splitter and uncommon precision was suddenly somewhat vulnerable, and as it became increasingly clear the Yankees would have to lean heavily on him were they to contend in the soft AL East, along came the shiver of something possibly wrong. Already the Yankees are without CC Sabathia, who could be lost for the season, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda.
Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe Tanaka is fine. It wouldn’t take much to convince the Yankees to put him on a plane bound for clarity and conservative treatment, given what he means to their rotation. Beyond that, they’re into the 25-year-old Tanaka for $155 million over seven years.
“Always something. Every day,” the man said.
It’s the nature of most every season. But given more than 50 major- and minor-league pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery since early March, and the stature of the pitchers who’ve been undone by elbow ligaments and other body parts, it would seem 2014 will be the Year of Attrition. Depth wins. Hoarding wins. A move or two at the trading deadline wins. Healing wins. Upright, effective pitchers who’ve somehow managed to duck catastrophe, they win, too. On the day Tanaka revealed something wasn’t quite right about his elbow, the Dodgers disabled Josh Beckett due to a hip ailment. An hour after Tanaka was disabled, the Royals announced Jason Vargas would require an appendectomy. The week was hours old when Bronson Arroyo, who’d pitched 15 seasons, made 369 starts, thrown nearly 2,400 innings and never been on a disabled list, announced he’d joined the Tommy John convoy.
Even in a season heavy on pitcher casualties, that’s some 48 hours.
Nobody is exempt. In the meantime, the Yankees are looking at a rotation of Brandon McCarthy, David Phelps, Hiroki Kuroda, Shane Greene and a replacement for Tanaka, probably Chase Whitley, going into – and coming out of – the All-Star break. This after they were outbid by the Oakland A’s for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and as David Price’s Tampa Bay Rays inched to within five games of them in the standings, and now what? A return to Ian Kennedy? To A.J. Burnett? How about Scott Feldman? Jorge De La Rosa? The Phillies are selling. If not Burnett, then Cliff Lee?
Even if the Tanaka scare turns out to be a false alarm, his return solves one problem every five days. The rest is out there somewhere, or heroism from within, because the Yankees’ rotation was less than average with Tanaka in it, and he’d won a league-high 12 games and was among the leaders in innings, ERA and strikeouts.
It’s not just a Yankee problem. Turned out, it was just their something, and just their day.
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