For Tanaka, Yankees, any day without a setback is a great day

Written By kom nampuldu on Kamis, 19 Maret 2015 | 18.18

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — A.J. Pierzynski had last seen Masahiro Tanaka last April 22, at Fenway Park, when the Yankees' then-rookie was undefeated, unhittable and uninhibited by major physical problems.

Pierzynski, the veteran catcher now playing for the Braves, took his second shot at Tanaka on Wednesday night at Champion Stadium.

"If it wasn't made a big deal because of who he is, I mean, I never would've gone up there saying, 'This guy has got a bad elbow,' " Pierzynski said, after the Yankees thumped the Braves, 12-5. "It looked like it was coming out of his hand fine."

Now all Tanaka has to do is keep tricking opponents, teammates and Mother Nature for another seven-plus months, and the Yankees will enjoy the fruits of their ace's labor as he competes with a partial tear of the UCL in his pitching elbow.

In his second Grapefruit League outing of the spring, the right-hander permitted no runs and two hits in 3²/₃ innings, walking none and striking out three, as he threw 45 pitches, 29 for strikes.

"I think it was as good as my first start," said Tanaka, who threw two perfect innings, also against the Braves on March 12 at Steinbrenner Field.

Pierzynski picked up one of the hits, a ground-ball single up the middle, in his lone encounter. Last year, as Tanaka dominated the Red Sox by giving up two runs in 7¹/₃ innings, he struck out Pierzynski twice and surrendered a double.

"He threw me a couple good sinkers and he threw me a backdoor slider, and another slider, I got the hit up the middle," Pierzynski said. "He looked the same. I didn't see a difference. I didn't see a split, so that's his pitch, obviously."

By increasing his workload, Tanaka moved one step closer to reaching the start of the season healthy. Of course, if you're a true cynic, you can offer that every pitch brings Tanaka one step closer to Tommy John surgery.

Unlike many of the other elbow mishaps we've seen lately — in this spring training alone, the Mets' Josh Edgin and Zack Wheeler, and Texas' Yu Darvish have gone down — Tanaka's doctors didn't recommend he immediately undergo surgery upon examining him last summer. He rested extensively upon receiving his diagnosis, and it took him more than two months to return to a game. But once he did, Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said, he pitched with the same aggressiveness and fearlessness that characterized his pre-injury work.

This limbo status of knowing that something eventually will occur, though not knowing when or where, is far from ideal for the Yankees.

"It's going to happen sooner or later, I think, right?" Gonzalez asked of Tanaka requiring the Tommy John procedure that likely would shelve him for at least 12 months.

Almost certainly, yes. When it happens very well could determine the fate of the 2015 Yankees, and maybe the 2016 Yankees, too.

"I told you, if I'm going to be on the edge of my seat every pitch, it's going to be a long season," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "That's the way it's going to be. He appears to be healthy. He's throwing the ball well. You just keep running him out there, keep building him up."

Last spring, Gonzalez's Braves lost two starting pitchers — Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy — to torn ligaments in a matter of days. This new reality isn't limited to the Yankees with Tanaka, or to the Mets with Wheeler and Edgin.

"You have to go into it thinking it's going to happen," Gonzalez said, referring to severe pitcher injuries in general. "And that's why it's so important to have depth. And nobody has enough of it."

The Yankees sure as heck don't, not with CC Sabathia's right knee another major concern and Michael Pineda historically brittle.

Tanaka's employers probably wish they could give themselves amnesia over Tanaka's condition every fifth day, just so they could fully enjoy his outings instead of sweating every splitter. Instead, they will ride the wave and pray this time bomb will keep ticking for the foreseeable future.


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