When Masahiro Tanaka took the mound in 2014, every one of his starts was an event, kind of like Matt Harvey with the Mets.
The Yankees need Tanaka Time back in a big way with the news that Nathan Eovaldi will be out for two weeks with inflammation in his right elbow.
Eovaldi has become the ace of the Yankees staff in his first season in New York, as he has a 14-3 record and a 4.20 ERA
Eovaldi had not lost a game from June 16th, when he was knocked out in his return to Miami, until this past Saturday, when he lost to Tampa Bay. He only gave up 3 runs in 5 1/3 innings on Saturday, but he struggled throughout, obviously due to the elbow injury.
Manager Joe Girardi said of Eovaldi’s injury on Tuesday afternoon, “Stevie (Donohue) had informed me that Evo had informed him that he was sore, in his elbow, so obviously he sent him for a test before the game even started, and talked to the doctor and I had already talked to you (the media).
“I was just really surprised because he had no problem before then. I blamed myself because a week ago, I said he was the one starter I didn’t have to worry about, said Girardi.
On how they will cover for his loss, Girardi said, “It’s not what you want this time of year, and it’s something that, we’ve had to overcome things this year, guys have had to step up, so we’re going to need someone to step up,” said Girardi.
The Yankees need Tanaka to be the one step up and become the ace of the staff again, as he was for much of last season, when he raced to an 11-1 record before suffering an elbow injury.
In the meantime, Eovaldi’s spot will essentially be taken by CC Sabathia, who is starting Wednesday after being out with knee pain. Nobody around the Yankees really views Sabathia as an ace anymore, as he stumbled to a 4-9 record with an astronomical 5.27 ERA.
This rotation is very fragile, as Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Michael Pineda have all dealt with injuries this season and Luis Severino has never been in this spot before, as he just came up to the Yankees at the start of August.
Tanaka might still be the most fragile of the group, as he missed two months last season with a UCL tear in his elbow. It looked like Tanaka might have needed Tommy John surgery to repair it, but instead, he tried therapy and wound up coming back to make a couple starts in September.
This season, Tanaka missed the month of May with elbow tendinitis, and the thing with elbow injuries is, you never know when they can cause trouble.
Aside from Eovaldi, Tanaka has been the Yankees’ most reliable and consistent starter, with an 11-6 record and a very nice ERA of 3.73.
He is 24-11 with a 3.23 ERA in 40 career starts. According to baseball-reference.com, he is the sixth Major League pitcher to record 24 wins in their first 40 career starts. The other five are Mark Fidrych (25), Cal Eldred (24), Boo Ferriss (24), Vic Raschi (24) and Babe Ruth (24). The big difference is all the wins Tanaka has in Japan before he came here.
The effects of the elbow injury, which has brought a loss in velocity, can be seen in Tanaka’s numbers this season. Entering Tuesday, he had 115 strikeouts in 128 innings, whereas last season, he had 135 in 129 1/3 innings before the elbow injury. He also has allowed 21 home runs this season in his 20 starts. His 1.48 home run per nine-inning ratio ranks ninth-highest in the American League.
Tanaka has only allowed more than four runs in just three starts this season, against Toronto on opening day, April 6th, when he allowed five runs, four earned, in four innings; June 21st against Detroit (five runs in five innings), and June 27th vs. Houston (six runs in five innings).
Since that Houston outing, Tanaka has made 11 starts with a 7-3 record. He has allowed over three runs just once, when he allowed four runs in six innings in Texas on July 29th. The way Texas hits, who can blame Tanaka for that?
The encouraging sign is how Tanaka has done against the Toronto Blue Jays, who the Yankees are battling for the American League East title. In back-to-back starts in August against Toronto, he allowed two runs on three hits, with five strikeouts, in six innings in a 2-0 loss at The Stadium on August 9th, followed by a complete game, one-run, five hit outing, with eight strikeouts, in a 4-1 Yankees win in Toronto on August 15th.
Among American League pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched, Tanaka has the third-lowest opponents’ on-base percentage at ,259 and seventh-lowest opponents’ batting average at .222.
Tanaka also has two streaks of five consecutive “quality starts,” from August 4th through 28th, and April 18th through June 15th. the two others, interestingly, are Luis Severino and Adam Warren, who might find his way back to the starting rotation.