On Monday, Masahiro Tanaka's season didn't get off to the greatest of starts. He was charged with four earned runs and lasted just four innings. This outing sparked concern over the state of his elbow. As everyone knows, Tanaka partially tore his UCL last season and missed part of the season while going through rehab. Does one bad outing mean that he should have had Tommy John surgery, or that he will need to have it?
The short answer is no. Yesterday, Brian Cashman took to the radio in an attempt to clear up any concern over Tanaka. There has been some debate among fans as to whether Tanaka was advised to have the surgery or to do rehab instead, but Cashman had this to say:
If the recommendation was to have the surgery, we'd do it...but the medical assessment from the doctors [was to rehab the elbow].
Now, you can argue until you're blue in the face about whether a) the surgery or b) the rehab would be most effective in the long run, but the Yankees' GM clearly says that the doctors advised Tanaka to rehab his elbow. Furthermore, the rehab process, which involved rest and platelet-rich plasma injections, did heal Tanaka's elbow to some extent, as an MRI taken over the offseason showed that the tear had healed a bit since the previous MRI taken at the end of the regular season. Does that mean he's healed and will never need to have Tommy John surgery? No one can definitively answer that.
Aside from the concerns about the health of his elbow, there has also been a lot of talk about Tanaka's velocity recently. When Tanaka spoke to the media Saturday, he said that he thinks his velocity to be lower this season. Prior to that statement, there had already been some discussion about his velocity and talk that it had been lower than normal during spring training. For the most part, none of that concern has been substantiated. Cashman said that Tanaka's fastball was just a half-mile slower during his Opening Day debut than it was last season during his first start, which was also against the Blue Jays.
Former MLB pitchers Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling have sounded off that they think Tanaka won't make it through the season "completely healthy." Schilling in particular spoke about how the difference in velocity between a 94 mph four-seamer and 90 mph sinker was critical in setting up Tanaka's splitter successfully. However, Tanaka's fastball velocity wasn't even near that last season (and yet he somehow managed to have a very good season). According to FanGraphs, his two-seamer, which he barely threw at all, averaged 91.7 mph and his four-seamer averaged 91.1 mph. His sinker averaged 90.3. For now, we know that Tanaka is working on his two-seamer because his four-seamer wasn't very successful last year. He's said that his velocity could be lower, and that he's trying to throw more relaxed, but that doesn't mean that Tanaka's going to pitch terribly this season. Nor does it mean that the Yankees should go ahead and book his TJ surgery. We just have to wait and see what happens.
One bad outing doesn't actually mean that the Yankees' season is doomed, or that Tanaka is injured, or that he should have had Tommy John surgery. Everyone has bad outings. If Tanaka gets lit up during his next five starts, then feel free to reconsider hitting the panic button.