TORONTO -- Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka's attempt to return from a torn elbow ligament without undergoing Tommy John surgery hit a roadblock Friday when the New York Yankees announced he would return to New York ahead of the team with what was termed as "general soreness'' in his pitching arm.
"I want to be a little bit cautious. I haven't been throwing for a couple of weeks and then I started throwing again and built up the number of pitches that I've been throwing,'' Tanaka said through his interpreter, Shingo Horie. "I think that's the reason why there's a little bit of extra soreness in the arm itself."
Both Tanaka and manager Joe Girardi stressed that the pitcher was not experiencing pain in his elbow, but an overall sensation of soreness throughout his right arm that would cause his next bullpen session to be postponed indefinitely. Tanaka threw 49 pitches in a simulated game at Comerica Park in Detroit on Thursday, and as reported by ESPNNewYork.com afterward, expressed concerns about his ability to return this season.
Now, any possible return by Tanaka this season is very much in doubt.
"I don't have percentages,'' Girardi said when asked what he thought the chances of Tanaka pitching again this season were. "We'd like him to pitch for us, too. But as I've said all along, this is something we're either going to know or not know when he gets into competition. Right now he's having a little setback. Let's hope that's all it is.''
Girardi said Tanaka would return to New York on Friday night, two days ahead of the team, which is in Toronto for a three-game weekend series against the Blue Jays.
"We are sending him back because he wants to work out at [Yankee Stadium],'' Girardi said. "It's just a better facility to work at. Because you have a better gym. And you have a rehab guy who's back there who works for us.''
Both Yankees head trainer Stevie Donohue and his assistant, Mark Littlefield, are with the team in Toronto, as is the Yankees strength and conditioning coach Matt Krause. Girardi said Tanaka would work out in New York with Michael Schuck, who has worked this season with CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and David Phelps.
"If I can go back to New York, back to Yankee Stadium, the whole environment is there, the workout room and everything,'' Tanaka said. "I'll be able to use that. Compared to the workout room here, which is very small, I'll be able to work out the way I want to, so that's why I'm going back."
Tanaka went on the disabled list July 9, a day after complaining of elbow soreness that caused him to leave a game against the Cleveland Indians in the seventh inning after having allowed two home runs. An MRI revealed a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, an injury normally treated with Tommy John surgery and a year of rehab. But after consultations with Yankees team physician Chris Ahmad, Tommy John specialist Dr. James Andrews, and Dr. Neal elAttrache, the team physician of the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Yankees chose to pursue a non-surgical approach to the injury by administering a platelet-rich plasma injection followed by rest and a controlled throwing program.
Tanaka progressed uneventfully through several steps of the process, from playing catch to long tossing to throwing bullpen session before experiencing soreness after the simulated game, in which he pitched to teammate Brendan Ryan for three innings. He had been scheduled to throw another simulated game at Yankee Stadium either Tuesday or Wednesday, plans that have now been scuttled, perhaps for good.
But Girardi was careful to point out that the Yankees have not abandoned hope that Tanaka, who was a legitimate AL Cy Young and Rookie of the Year candidate for the first 14 starts of his major-league career, will be able to pitch again this season.
"He's not going to throw a bullpen for about maybe a week,'' Girardi said. "But as I've said, if you shut him down, it's surgery. It's not like it's going to be, 'Well, let's see how it is next year.' We're going to proceed and it's either going to be he's healthy or he needs surgery.''