At this point two years ago, the Yankees were making one of the biggest offseason acquisitions when they signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million deal. Immediately, Tanaka was thrown into an ace role for a Yankees staff whom had just lost Andy Pettitte to retirement. Again.
Last season, Tanaka started 24 games, but finished with a 12-7 record with a 3.51 ERA, and one complete game.
As the season was wearing on, he was ready for the playoffs, but would be hurt for the second time in 2015, this time a hamstring injury while fielding a bunt. It would be his third stint on the DL in the last two seasons. He would miss his next few starts.
He would, however, recover in time for the playoffs and pitch five innings in a Wild Card loss to the Houston Astros.
Today, both Yankee executives and fans already have reason to be worried about the season. In an interview with reporters today, Tanaka reported that he’s not sure of his Opening Day status.
“Can’t really say,” Tanaka said through his interpreter when talking to reporters, “We’ll take it day by day… I just want to see myself go into the bullpen, get the innings in and see how I feel.”
The 27-year-old right-hander from Japan has said that he has yet to throw off a mound since reporting to Yankees’ camp down in Tampa, contrary to interviews with Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
In 2014, Tanaka suffered a slight tear in his UCL and it was never operated on because of doctors’ thoughts that it was not torn enough for him to require surgery. There has been constant speculation surrounding that decision since and Tanaka said he couldn’t say whether it affected his ability to pitch last season.
If you asked him about last season, Tanaka would call it frustrating to say the least.
“It was frustrating,” said Tanaka through his interpreter again, “Missed time, obviously, because of having to go on the disabled list, didn’t feel like I pitched enough games. Obviously not pitching enough innings, so in that sense it was a frustrating year.”
The Yankees are hoping that their ace can be ready for Opening Day on April 4, when they open the season against the Houston Astros.
Tanaka will continue to pitch throughout spring training and as for what happens next? We’ll see come April 4.