Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Yankees' Tanaka has surgery; no not the dreaded one

Most everyone who follows the New York Yankees waited all season for Masahiro Tanaka to walk off the mound holding his right elbow, the partial tear finally succumbing to the unnatural torque of throwing a baseball. It never happened.

Masahiro Tanaka
Photo credit: Keith Allison via Flickr
However, the partial tear was not the only issue with the elbow; Tanaka still had surgery on his most fragile body part, having a long-existing bone spur removed Tuesday. Tanaka will endure a six-week strengthening program and should be ready for spring training. The Yankees hold out hope that this is not the beginning of something more.

According to Dr. Michael Hausman, Chief of Hand and Elbow Surgery at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the spurs can form or grow as an indirect result of having partial tearing of the ulnar collateral ligament (Daniel Barbarisi - The Wall Street Journal). While the tear may hold up, there is a chance of more spurs forming along the way, and with that the potential need to have more cleaning done to the elbow.

Tanaka had a moderately successful second season with New York, never looking like an ace for extended periods. He made 26 starts, accumulating 154 innings. Tanaka missed a bit more than a month in the early part of the season with wrist tendinitis and another start at the end of the season with a slight hamstring strain. According to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Tanaka never spoke with the club about the bone spur bothering him.

Tanaka's performance during the season (12-7, 3.51 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 139 K) didn't show any signs that he was affected by the bone spur. It's entirely possible that the issue was more annoying than hurting his production and Tanaka decided to simply get rid of it now before it became a problem in season. One would hope that if Tanaka had been troubled by the spur to the point that it was affecting his effort he would have said something to the team.

In my view, taking care of it before it affected performance, or another one grew next to it to become more problematic makes sense. We've seen that Tanaka can pitch well with the partial UCL tear, and apparently he can pitch just fine with a bone spur as well.

Maybe, just maybe, Tanaka can fulfill his status as ace on the mound to coincide with his salary, if he stays 100 percent healthy in 2016. Ridding discomfort in the most important baseball part of his body is a good first step. He and the Yankees surely hope this cleanup will be as big a surgery that Tanaka will need on his elbow during their union.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance baseball writer. Besides his work here, Christopher is a featured Yankees writer for His baseball commentary has also been published on Yahoo Sports and linked multiple times on MLB Trade Rumors’ Baseball Blogs Weigh In. He is a member of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, the Baseball Bloggers Alliance and the BYB Hub.