Masahiro Tanaka has been one of the best stories in baseball during the first half, but it's turning sour in a hurry. The Yankees are now faced with the very real possibility that they will have to make do without their new ace for the rest of this season and all (or most) of 2015.
That's the major takeaway after Thursday's update from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman. Tanaka was seen by three doctors, all of whom agreed that he's dealing with a partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. A decision on surgery will wait, as he will go the rest and rehab route for now.
Tanaka will receive a platelet-rich plasma injection in his elbow before he attempts to begin a throwing program. Barring any setbacks, Tanaka could return to game action within six weeks. However, if the elbow fails to respond, Tommy John surgery is possible. Tanaka's tear is considered small, but there haven't been many success stories with pitchers attempting to rehab. Still, there's a good chance that he would miss most of next season even if he had Tommy John surgery tomorrow, so it's worth a shot. Surgery is always the last resort.
After the Yankees committed $175 million (including $20 million for the posting fee and a seven-year, $155 million contract) to bring Tanaka into the fold over the winter, the 25-year-old has lived up to hype with a 2.51 ERA and 135/19 K/BB ratio over his first 129 1/3 innings in the majors. It would be a real shame to see him potentially sidelined until 2016, but pitcher health continues to be a problem without a solution across MLB.
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Thursday was a rough day for three teams in the National League Central. The Phillies finished off a four-game sweep of the first-place Brewers and the Cardinals and Reds each both got some really bad news about an important player.
Most significantly, the Cardinals announced that All-Star catcher Yadier Molina has been diagnosed with a torn ligament in his right thumb and will undergo surgery Friday. He's expected to be sidelined for 8-12 weeks, which puts him at risk for missing the remainder of the regular season.
The injury is a brutal blow for the Cardinals, as Molina's value transcends statistics and advanced metrics. With his contributions on offense and behind the plate and his influence and rapport with the pitching staff, he simply can't be replaced. Tony Cruz is Molina's backup, but the Cardinals figure to look outside the organization for insurance. John Buck, A.J. Pierzynski, and George Kottaras have all been designated for assignment in recent days while Kurt Suzuki and David Ross could be potential trade options. Either way, the Cardinals face a real challenge to make the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.
As for the Reds, Brandon Phillips also faces surgery, but to a torn ligament in his left thumb. The injury apparently isn't as severe as Molina's, as he's expected to miss approximately six weeks. That gives him a chance to make it back before the end of August if all goes well.
The Reds already had to put Joey Votto back on the disabled list earlier this week after he aggravated his left quad, so first-year manager Bryan Price will have to rely on a patchwork right side of the infield for now. Ramon Santiago, Skip Schumaker, Brayan Pena, and Kristopher Negron all figure to see increased playing time in the coming days. That's not a good thing. Like the Cardinals, the Reds could look to the trade market in order to secure some much-needed depth.
Brewers Applying the Full Nelson
Thursday wasn't all about injuries in MLB. We also had a notable change in the Brewers' rotation, as the team announced that top prospect Jimmy Nelson will be called up to start Saturday against the second-place Cardinals while Marco Estrada will be moved to the bullpen.
Estrada has been a little better over his last three starts, but it's been a struggle for him for most of the season, mostly because of the long ball. The 31-year-old owns a 4.96 ERA through 18 starts and has allowed 27 home runs in just 107 innings. No other pitcher in MLB has given up more than 19 so far this season. The Brewers simply couldn't keep running him out there, especially with a capable replacement in the pipeline.
Nelson pitched well in a spot-start with the Brewers earlier this season and has posted a microscopic 1.44 ERA and 114/32 K/BB ratio over 111 innings in Triple-A. He's been at his best of late, putting together a 22-inning scoreless streak. Listed at 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, the 2010 second-round pick features a low-to-mid 90s fastball and a hard slider. Those in shallow mixed leagues can probably wait before picking him up, but he should be on your radar in deeper formats.
AL Quick Hits: Mike Trout was 4-for-5 with a home run, four RBI, and three runs scored in Thursday's blowout win over the Rangers … Adrian Beltre went 3-for-4 with a solo homer Thursday against the Angels … Carlos Beltran, who suffered two small facial fractures during a batting practice mishap Wednesday, was placed on the 7-day concussion disabled list on Thursday … Joe Mauer (oblique) is not expected to be ready when second half of the season begins … Jon Lester struck out 12 batters over seven innings of one-run ball Thursday against the White Sox, but was handed a no-decision due to a blown save from Koji Uehara … Carlos Santana launched his 14th home run of the season in a comeback win over the Yankees on Thursday … Scott Kazmir fired seven scoreless innings with nine strikeouts in Thursday's win over the Giants … Jered Weaver (back) is expected to make his next scheduled start Saturday against the Rangers … C.J. Wilson was placed on the disabled list Thursday with a right ankle sprain and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks … Brett Gardner (abdominal strain) went 1-for-5 with a single in his return to action Thursday … Torii Hunter finished 3-for-6 with a home run, three RBI, and two runs scored in Thursday's rout over the Royals … Shane Victorino resumed a minor league rehab assignment Thursday with Class A Lowell and went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts … The Royals placed Jason Vargas (appendectomy) on the 15-day disabled list … Steve Pearce continued his hot-hitting Thursday with a solo homer and a single against the Nationals …
NL Quick Hits: Clayton Kershaw saw his scoreless streak end at 41 2/3 innings Thursday against the Padres, but he struck out 11 batters and allowed just one run in a complete game victory … Andrew McCutchen went 2-for-4 with two RBI, two runs scored, and two stolen bases in Thursday's win over the Cardinals … Ryan Braun (back) went 1-for-4 with a single in his return to action Thursday and batted fifth for the first time since 2008 … Ian Desmond left Thursday's game after he was hit in the right hand by a pitch, but X-rays came back negative … Homer Bailey left Thursday's start against the Cubs due to pain in the patellar tendon of his right knee, but he's expected to be ready for his first start after the All-Star break … Aaron Harang tossed seven innings of one-run ball Thursday against the Mets for his ninth victory of the season … Jon Niese (shoulder) is expected to rejoin the Mets' rotation on July 21 against the Mariners … Edinson Volquez allowed just one run in a complete-game victory over the Cardinals on Thursday … CBS Sports' Jon Heyman reports that the Rockies intend to re-sign impending free agent Michael Cuddyer … The Dodgers have activated Carl Crawford from the 15-day disabled list, but he'll serve as an expensive bench player for now … Arismendy Alcantara went 4-for-5 with a triple, a double, and three RBI against the Reds on Thursday and will remain with the Cubs for the time being … David Buchanan held the Brewers to one run over seven innings Thursday for his fifth win, but he was optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley after the game in order to make room for Grady Sizemore on the active roster …