Tanaka sustains first severe setback with elbow pain

How many Yankees found themselves over the course of the first portion of the 2014 season asking this question:

“Where would be without Masahiro Tanaka?”

Let’s hope we don’t have to find that out. Yankees Universe held a collective breath Wednesday with the news that Tanaka returned to New York to have an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) exam on his right elbow after complaining of soreness there during the Yankees’ 5-3 loss Tuesday night at Cleveland. Tanaka allowed five runs and 10 hits, both season highs against him, in 6 2/3 innings.

For the time being, the Yankees are terming the injury right elbow inflammation. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list, which now makes four-fifths of the Opening Day rotation on the DL. Ivan Nova is lost for the entire season. CC Sabathia may be also, and Michael Pineda won’t likely be back before August. Hiroki Kuroda, the only member of the Opening Day rotation still a member of the starting unit, better not walk under any ladders.

It is not yet time for Yankees fans to push the panic button despite the dire news. The club won’t know for sure what Tanaka’s issue is until the MRI is studied. The problem is that Dr. Chris Ahmad, the team physician, is attending a major orthopedist convention in Seattle, the same one that has prevented the noted surgeon Dr. James Andrews from examining Sabathia’s ailing right knee to determine if surgery is required.

Tanaka’s next scheduled start was to have been Sunday night at Baltimore, the Yankees’ final game before the All-Star break. The righthander was selected for the American League squad but was not expected to pitch in the game because of the Sunday start. It is unclear now whether he will go to Minneapolis for the game. The AL has replaced him on the roster with Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara, which stinks. It should have been David Robertson.

That is the least of the Yankees’ concern at this point. Tanaka, their prize signing in the past off-season, had proved to be every bit as effective on this side of the Pacific Ocean as he was back home in Japan where he was 24-0 last year.

In his first 14 starts for the Yankees, Tanaka was 11-1 with two no-decisions and a 1.99 ERA. He has come down to Earth somewhat in the past four starts in which he is 1-3 with a 4.25 ERA. Tanaka has nonetheless placed himself in contention for the AL Cy Young and Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Awards by leading the league in victories with his 12-4 record, tied for first in complete games with three and ranking second in ERA at 2.51.

Now it is matter of watch and wait to see how serious the injury to Tanaka is. As for the answer to that question, well, figure it out: the Yankees were 13-5 in games started by Tanaka and 31-39 in games started by everyone else.

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