Tanaka Has Slightly Torn Ulnar Collateral Ligament

TODAY: Dr. James Andrews was also consulted on Tanaka’s elbow, and concurred with the other three doctors that rehab was the appropriate action at this point, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com (via Twitter).

YESTERDAY: Yankees general manager Brian Cashman gave reporters devastating news today, as he revealed that Masahiro Tanaka has a slight tear in the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, and Tommy John surgery is possible (All Twitter links to Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News). Tanaka was examined by three doctors, all of whom confirmed the tear. For now, a platelet rich plasma injection is being recommended, and the Yankees are hopeful that he can return in six weeks’ time.

Cashman stressed that this is a slight tear, Feinsand tweets, and if the immediate recommendation had been Tommy John surgery, Tanaka would be undergoing the operation. It’s not unheard of for pitchers to throw with slightly torn UCLs, Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports notes (on Twitter). Adam Wainwright did just that for nearly five years, he notes, and Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star tweets that Luke Hochevar did the same. Ervin Santana is another example of a pitcher who has successfully avoided Tommy John despite a UCL tear. Still, this is highly disheartening news for the Yankees, and those pitchers’ circumstances are the exception, not the rule.

Even with the likes of Cliff Lee, David Price and Cole Hamels potentially on the trade market, it’s unlikely that any acquisition could replace the brilliant performance that Tanaka has turned in to this point in the season (and, the Yankees likely don’t have the prospects to acquire those big names anyhow).

Three months into his seven-year, $155MM contract — a contract he signed after undergoing an MRI that showed his UCL was intact, Cashman notes (via Feinsand) — Tanaka has a masterful 2.51 ERA with 9.4 K/9, 1.3 BB/9 and a 45.9 percent ground-ball rate. That’s good for 3.2 fWAR and 4.1 rWAR, and those numbers would be even better if his two most recent starts (which may or may not have been impacted by the injury) were thrown out. Tanaka allowed nine runs in 13 2/3 innings over those two contests but had a 2.10 ERA in 115 2/3 innings prior.

As far as the Yankees’ approach at this year’s deadline, Cashman said that he will continue to be aggressive unless he is told otherwise (link). The Yankees have already acquired Brandon McCarthy from the Diamondbacks and were expected to pursue infield upgrades and potentially some further pitching help. Cashman likely wouldn’t concede to selling right off the bat anyway, however, and it’s difficult to see the Yankees making a sustained run if they end up losing Tanaka, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova for the season.


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