Yankees' Ace Could Still Have Tommy John Surgery Depending On How Rehab Goes

CLEVELAND (CBSNewYork/AP) — Masahiro Tanaka has a partially torn elbow ligament and is expected to miss at least six weeks, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Thursday night.

The 25-year-old right-hander will attempt nonsurgical rehab on his injured ulnar collateral ligament. Cashman did not rule out season-ending, reconstructive “Tommy John” surgery, but said it would depend on how well the rehab works.

“The ligament tear is considered small, and we have had success with pitchers that have had these,” Cashman said. “We have actually had them continue to throw without incident and they have gotten back to their normal levels.”

Tanaka was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, perhaps the biggest blow yet to the Yankees’ battered rotation.

The rookie sensation from Japan had an MRI in New York and then flew to Seattle to be examined by Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the team’s head physician. Ahmad is in Seattle for a conference.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi acknowledged prior to Thursday’s series finale in Cleveland that he was concerned about Tanaka’s prognosis.

“You’re always worried when you have a guy go back for an elbow MRI,” he said. “It would be a big loss. Anytime you lose a starting pitcher, they’re hard to replace. And what he’s done for us, the innings and the wins and the quality of starts, it’s hard to replace.”

However, Girardi told WFAN’s Mike Francesa he’s not going to make excuses for his club going forward.

“As we’ve always said, no one is going to feel sorry for you. We just have to go out and win games,” Girardi said.

The Yankees, who have also lost pitchers CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova to injuries, are 46-44 and trail first-place Orioles by three games in the AL East. They head to Baltimore on Friday for the final series before the All-Star break.

Girardi said despite all the injuries his team still controls its playoff destiny.

“I think you finish strong going into the break and then take your chances,” Girardi said. “Who knows what’s going to happen? If we finish strong we’ll be right in the middle of the division. All you can ask for is a chance to win the division. If we continue to play well we’re going to have a shot.”

Tanaka allowed five runs and 10 hits — both career highs — over 6 2/3 innings in a 5-3 loss to the Indians on Tuesday night. The 25-year-old right-hander is 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 18 starts, but has lost three of his past four outings.

“It goes without saying how important he’s been for us,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “He’s been as good as anyone, probably, in our league that we’ve seen. He’s been our go-to guy.”

The Yankees signed Tanaka to a $155 million, seven-year contract in January after he had a standout career in Japan. New York also paid $20 million to his Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, for his rights.

Tanaka, who was a named to the AL All-Star team earlier this week, began the season 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA, but hasn’t been as effective in his past four starts, going 1-3 with a 4.25 ERA.

He has allowed eight home runs in his last five games, including two on Tuesday, a two-run shot in the sixth by Nick Swisher that put Cleveland ahead and a solo drive by Michael Brantley in the seventh.

Girardi said he didn’t notice any sign that something was bothering Tanaka during the game.

“There wasn’t anything that led us to believe there was anything wrong,” Girardi said. “He told the trainers that he just felt some soreness, so we felt it was best to send him back and have an MRI. It’s the first time he’s complained (of it).”

Tanaka’s past two starts came on four days’ rest, the regular amount for major league pitchers. He pitched once a week in Japan.

Tanaka has anchored a shaky Yankees rotation. Sabathia might need season-ending knee surgery, and Nova had Tommy John surgery and won’t pitch again until next season. The Yankees hope to see Pineda again in August and newly acquired Brandon McCarthy allowed just one earned run over 6 2-3 innings on Wednesday.

The Yankees are 13-5 in games Tanaka has started. He has recorded 135 strikeouts and walked 19 in 129 1-3 innings. The right-hander has allowed 111 hits and opponents are batting .231 against him. He has given up 15 home runs.

Tanaka was scheduled to start Sunday against Baltimore, the final game before the All-Star break. Girardi said no decision has been made on who will take Tanaka’s spot, though he hinted to Francesa that it’s possible Chase Whitley gets the ball.

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