By Abby Sims
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Though Yankees outfielder Carlos Beltran has said he feels ready to go, Joe Girardi is reportedly taking it slow with the 38-year-old veteran. He’s planning to play him for the first time on Friday.
Though that is only three days into the Grapefruit League schedule — not a significant delay — I still don’t get why Beltran waited until September 30 to have loose bodies and a bone spur removed from his right elbow. Think about it: The 2014 season going nowhere, there was an established need for surgery, and his personal numbers were taking a hit (.233/.301/.402 with 15 home runs and 49 RBIs in 403 at-bats). Why the push to wait until the offseason?
In Beltran’s defense, he and the Yankees’ medical team may have decided that since the surgery required only the removal of structures — rather than any type of repair — the recovery process would not be hampered by the need for the important tissues of the area to undergo a lengthy healing process. That is generally true of surgeries like the one Beltran had, as opposed to procedures that entail restoring function after any type of reconstruction or repair of muscle, tendon or labrum. Beltran should be fine, and he better be if he has to throw from right field.
However, despite that, it seems more prudent to me — particularly with older players who may require more healing time — to opt for surgery earlier and allow for a longer period of rehab. particularly in a non-playoff situation. This ensures the best possible recovery and minimizes the risk of returning to play sooner than medically desirable.
In other injury news…
The Yankees are certainly taking more of a crapshoot approach with starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who sustained a partial ulnar collateral ligament tear last season. Tanaka returned at the end of the regular season to pitch two games after a lengthy absence.
Despite his effectiveness in those appearances and his progress to date, even GM Brian Cashman stated rather candidly, “If Tanaka’s healthy he’s going to be successful. I know that. If not, it will declare itself over time and we’ll deal with it.”
Let’s face it: The fact that Tanaka and his pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, have been pleased with his bullpen sessions to this point is by no means indicative of the way his season will go. Tanaka has been ramping up the force with which he pitches while reportedly improving his location and limiting his number of tosses. Though Tanaka claims to be “on the right track,” even a cautious rehab and a return to the mound do not guarantee success.
Few have succeeded in returning from UCL injuries after conservative management alone. I hope to be proven wrong after suggesting that Tanaka should opt for the more aggressive approach and get surgery.
It seemed to me that he would be ready to pitch at some point this season — even if only toward the latter portion — with little risk of sacrificing of an additional year. Now, who knows? It does seem likely that Tanaka — a fastball pitcher who’s had a UCL injury at such a young age — is destined for Tommy John surgery. The real question is, if not now, when?