Tuesday, February 10, 2015

FOR TANAKA, EVERYTHING RESTS ON A LIGAMENT


The Yankees offseason was a bit different prior to the start of the 2015 season. Instead of opening up the Steinbrenner’s checkbook as we have become accustomed to, Brian Cashman was able to swing a few deals and make the Yankees younger. He avoided the big name pitchers and is going to go to work with what the organization has, while adding Nathan Eovaldi and re-signing Chris Capuano. What does this mean for the rotation though? It means that Masahiro Tanaka’s seven-year $155 million dollar contract, and suspect elbow, must live up to expectations. No pressure though, bro!

Now, nobody has any doubt of the right-handers capabilities when given a baseball. He has a plus slider, a tremendous splitter and a fastball he can use to paint the corners and one that appears that much better following a nasty slider or split. The big question mark the Yankees and us fans have for him is the partial tear of the UCL in his right elbow. Although he was able to rehab last summer and avoid the dreaded (I don’t even want to say it), Tommy John surgery, there are many documented cases of pitchers rehabbing just to inevitably have the surgery anyway.

Tanaka went through a new therapy called platelet-rich-plasma therapy. It’s a new innovative form of treatment, but it's long term effectiveness has yet to be determined. You can read more about it HERE.


As far as the Yankees 2015 starting rotation and season is concerned, Tanaka’s health and effectiveness is going to be a huge part of the success or failure of the organization. To go along with his injury, CC Sabathia is coming off knee surgery and is not the spring chicken he used to be. Michael Pineda, who could be a top of the rotation starter, has struggled, to put it mildly, to stay healthy. So the Yankees are banking on Tanaka’s elbow to hold up and his form to be what it was when they signed him to a lucrative contract.

So what should be expect from Tanaka in 2015? Well, he has been working out in Japan and according to the Wall Street Journal, spoke with the media after a Jan. 22 workout. Tanaka offered his first public comments of the new year, with the local sports dailies reporting that he merely said, “Everything, including my elbow, feels great. I’m confident and ready to go.”


So that’s good news right? Sure it is. But would he really come out to the media and say “I’m scared s***less and don’t know if my elbow will hold up?” My guess is probably not!

He feels healthy and was able to come back in September to make two starts before the 2014 season ended. That was a huge relief at the time, but it sure doesn't mean he's in the clear. Every time he takes the mound and throws a pitch, the whole Yankees Universe is going to be a little nervous. That’s not to say that the PRP therapy can’t do wonders and him missing merely two months could be called a huge victory. But with $155 million invested and a rotation that needs the consistent, reliable top of the line starter, his health could very well be the make or break scenario for the Bombers.


I’m an optimist though and feel that the doctors and Tanaka know what the best option was at the time of the original injury. I’m hopeful that the PRP therapy does wonders and was able to assist in the healing of the UCL. The best case for the Yankees is that Tanaka returns to the Cy Young candidate form he possessed the first half of 2014, a season in which he finished 13-5 over 20 starts with a 2.77 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning. Sure not bad for a rookie pitching in the American League East!

With pitchers and catchers reporting on February 20th, Tanaka’s elbow and every pitch will surely be covered as closely as he was last year in his first camp in the states. The Yankees received a fair amount of criticism for not signing a big name free agent this offseason and going into battle with what they have. The decision not to invest any more significant money into the rotation I feel was a good move, but they sure have some question marks as the season begins. Only time will tell, but the talented right-hander has the skills to succeed, now he just needs the little ligament in his elbow to allow that to happen.


 
Dan Lucia
BYB Writer
Twitter: @DManLucia

 

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