Tanaka's elbow receives the last word on Sunday night

NEW YORK -- The beauty of sports will be on display on Sunday night. The New York Yankees can say that Mashairo Tanaka's $175 million right elbow is fine, that his poor outing on Opening Day against the Toronto Blue Jays was just a bad start -- nothing more, nothing less.

Most of rest of the baseball world -- led by Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez and, to some degree, Tanaka himself -- can counter that Tanaka is not exactly right.

But the words don't matter.

Tanaka, 26, will eventually either prove he is right physically and mentally or he won't. It is simple as that, which makes Sunday night against the Boston Red Sox a spectacle for the struggling Yankees -- trying to avoid a sweep -- as their future might rest on Tanaka's slightly torn ulnar collateral ligament.

This is what we know: Before Tanaka was hurt, he was one of the best starters in baseball as a rookie. Since taking 10 weeks to rehabilitate the tear, Tanaka has now made three regular-season starts.

  • Sept. 21 vs. Toronto: 5⅓ innings, one run (earned) on five hits with four strikeouts and no walks.

  • Sept. 27 at Boston: 1⅔ innings, seven runs (five earned) on seven hits with two strikeouts and two walks

  • April 6 vs. Toronto: 4 innings, five runs (four earned) on five hits with six strikeouts and two walks.

This is what Tanaka, after his velocity was down this spring, said just before his Opening Day start.

  • "I think, in terms of miles per hour go, it will be lower than last year," Tanaka said.

  • "I'm going to try and establish a certain pitching style this year, so it is not the wisest to ask for velocity from me this year," Tanaka said.

Then on Opening Day -- and the Yankees even admit it -- Tanaka's velocity was about a mile-per-hour less than it was last year (91.2 last year compared to 90.3 this year). Does that matter that much? No, but the psychological aspect, that Tanaka doesn't feel like he is going out there with his full capability and is, on record, saying he doesn't think his arm strength is coming back this year, could be important.

Well, that's what Pedro Martinez thinks, anyway.

“Tanaka is not healthy right now because I believe Tanaka is hesitant to let it go,” said Martinez, an analyst for TBS and MLB Network, on SiriusXM. “Tanaka is hanging all those breaking balls that he is throwing.

“The only pitch he is committing to is the split-finger, and his problems are actually in a place where you don’t need to put any more stress, which is the elbow. And he’s hesitant. He’s hesitating to throw his fastball and he’s hanging every breaking ball he’s throwing out there. Plus his velocity is not there yet.”

Tanaka and Martinez met on Friday without incident.

Tanaka, Yankees manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have all tried to get on the same page as Tanaka. As in every situation, Girardi tries to take out an extinguisher as quickly as he can.

"I think there's been a lot made of it," Girardi said Saturday. "His average velocity the other day was one mile off what his velocity was for the whole season last year. And it is only his first start. And I think that he will continue to develop arm strength as the season goes along. I think when he talked about it in Washington, the way I understood in talking to him, was, 'I'm not a guy who throws 96, 97, 98 and blows people away. That's not the type of pitcher I am.'"

Tanaka was asked several times, admittedly through an interpreter, to clarify what he meant in Washington about his velocity, but never said anything like this. Anyway, Girardi downplayed velocity, as is his wont when velocity is down.

"I think you can really get caught up in velocity instead of making your pitches," Girardi said. "The other day he made mistakes with his fastball. His fastball got hit last year, too. So, I'm not going to tell him to go out there and throw as hard as he can. What he needs to do is, and all pitchers need to do, is locate a little better."

So everyone has spoken. The beauty, though, is is that Tanaka's right arm and elbow receives the final word.