Yankees’ rookie ace Masahiro Tanaka continued to make progress Thursday in his attempt to avoid Tommy John surgery by rehabbing his partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. He is ultimately planning to try and come back from the injury before the end of the season.
Tanaka threw off the mound at Comerica Park in Detroit Thursday morning, before the Yankees took on the Detroit Tigers, in a simulated game. He reportedly used his entire repertoire of pitches, including his signature slider.
Tanaka threw three innings and 49 pitches in the simulated game. Teammate Brendan Ryan volunteered to get there early to be the batter for Tanaka. Ryan batted from both sides of the plate and believes the right-hander to be ready to throw to big league hitters.
“The pinpoint [command] is probably going to be the last thing to come. I would expect that to be there pretty soon,” Ryan said. “He can go out there and get outs now, just on stuff alone. The sooner the better. I’d say it was a pretty good day.”
Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi wants to build Tanaka up to 75 pitches in what he believes will take at least two more simulated games before activating him from the disabled list. The Yankees are optimistic that Tanaka will make starts for them in September.
“You have an idea that it’s possible that he could come back,” Giardi told reporters.
Tanaka expressed the fact that he was feeling a bit rusty on some of his pitches but only the normal soreness that usually accompanies a throwing session.
“I think some of the balls I am throwing, I’m still not able to hit my spots,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “The rust is still there, so I still have some work to do to get back to game-ready.”
It is rare that a pitcher opts for rehabilitation over Tommy John surgery. Of the few that have chosen that route have ended up needing Tommy John surgery anyway. A good example is the New York Mets’ Matt Harvey who tried rehabbing his torn UCL but eventually gave in and had the surgery.
Unfortunately for Harvey, who has expressed his desire to return to pitch this season, he won’t be able to pitch in 2014 because the Mets would rather err on the side of caution with their star pitcher. However it does beg the question, what if Harvey had had the surgery initially and not spent time rehabbing? He would likely be back pitching by now.
So far this does not seem to be the case with Tanaka as he is pitching with only normal soreness and good velocity. The Yankees have done a good job of being cautious with the right-hander while have kept his recovery moving along at a fair pace. As of now it appears that we will see Tanaka take the mound again in 2014.