The rehabilitation of Masahiro Tanaka has gone as well as anyone could hope. The right-hander has steadily progressed from lightly tossing the ball in the outfield to bullpen sessions where he was able to throw fastballs while incorporating his breaking pitches and a few of his trademark split-finger fastballs. The Yankees' ace spoke to reporters after his Wednesday bullpen session:
I feel that I’ve gotten the health to the point where the elbow is fine now. I’m more looking toward playing in a game now. But even with that said, I do have to be cautious about the elbow.
The first half of the quote should be music to the ears of both the Yankee fans and front office alike. Anytime someone suffers a significant injury, trusting that the area is healthy enough handle the stresses of a game is important. On many occasions over the years, pitchers have altered their mechanics in response to an injury only to have another issue develop due to overcompensation.
The second half of the quote is where the Yankees need to give pause and think. Tanaka’s progress has been outstanding; would the team be better off shutting him down after he completes his rehab, or is it right that the team will try to get him into a game this year?
The case for shutting Tanaka down
Tanaka is the most important asset the team possesses. When news first broke that the rookie right-hander partially torn his ulnar collateral ligament, the vast majority of the baseball community assumed that Tommy John surgery would be in his immediate future. The tear was fortunately discovered to be small so a PRP injection along with six weeks of rehabilitation was prescribed as the main course of action.
Andrew wrote an excellent article last month about the effectiveness of the platelet-rich plasma (PRP) treatment. In the scientific study, the data supported findings that most pitchers suffering from partially torn ulnar collateral ligaments were able to return to their previous effectiveness within twelve weeks. With the team’s season-long struggle to score runs compounded with their inability to make up ground in the Wild Card, it makes sense to give the Yankee’s best pitcher as much time as possible to ensure his arm is fully recovered.
The case for pitching this year
While the season appears bleak for the New York Yankees, there are still thirty-four games left on the season; with the team only four games out of the second Wild Card, there still exists a chance of the team closing the gap. If Tanaka is healthy, having him take the slot in the rotation currently belonging to Chris Capuano affords the Yankees their best chance of seizing control of the second Wild Card.
Should the worst happen and Tanaka ends up needing Tommy John, (knocks on wood) then knowing immediately versus finding out in spring training provides him the best chance to start 2015 with the MLB club instead of him spending the first several weeks of the regular season still rehabbing.
There are reasons for both allowing Tanaka to pitch this year as well as shutting him down. My personal feelings are that I’d rather see his arm tested during actual game situations this season rather than wait. If it does not work, he’s only gone for one season instead of risking losing him for the entirety of one season and part of another.