MLB: Masahiro Tanaka could need Tommy John elbow surgery

10:51 p.m. EDT July 10, 2014  The New York Yankees' fading playoff hopes took a huge hit Thursday when All-Star pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was diagnosed with a small tear in his right elbow ligament that could end his season.

Tanaka, the Yankees' ace, will try to rehab his elbow during the next few weeks to see if he can avoid Tommy John elbow' surgery, which would keep him sidelined until 2016.

If surgery is not necessary, Tanaka will miss at least six weeks, Yankees GM Brian Cashman said, and realistically would not return until September.

"Hopefully no more than six weeks,'' Cashman told reporters. "Time will tell. It's a disappointing situation and one that none of us wanted to be talking about or experiencing.

"Unfortunately, the facts are the facts. We found out now, and we know what we're dealing with."

Tanaka, the Yankee's $175 million free-agent investment from Japan, had been dominant most of the season, winning 12 games with a 2.51 ERA. He was 11-1 with a 1.91 ERA in his first 12 starts, but struggled of late. He complained of elbow soreness after being clobbered in his last start Monday against Cleveland -- a season-high 10 hits and five runs -- and visited Yankees team physician Chris Amad Thursday in Seattle.

"He has seen three physicians, our chief physicians,'' Cashman says, "all three agree on a diagnosis that he has a new injury, he has a partially-torn ligament in his throwing arm. The ligament tear is considered small, and we the Yankees have had success with pitchers that have had these. We have actually had them continue to throw without incident and they have gotten back to their normal levels.

"It doesn't rule out the possibility of a Tommy John in a failed attempt, but all three doctors agree on the diagnosis and the rehab protocol. We are going to follow their recommendation. None of them recommend surgery at this time, and they're all hopeful that in roughly, maybe a six-week period, that we will have a pitcher back if he responds positively."

Several talent evaluators feared that Tanaka was putting extra stress on his arm with the amount of split-fingers he threw this season. He had thrown 477 split-fingered pitches, which was 81 more than any pitcher in the major leagues.

The Yankees, 46-44, who entered Thursday three games behind the Baltimore Orioles in the AL East, now will have to scramble to find pitching help. Yet, no matter who they get, there's no way they can adequately replace Tanaka, who becomes the fourth pitcher from their opening-day rotation to get injured.

The Yankees, who already traded for pitcher Brandon McCarthy of the Arizona Diamondbacks last week, say they now will hit the trade market again.

"We've been aggressive, because now we've got four starters that we were planning to have in the rotation out," Cashman said. "Because of that, we have been aggressive and we will continue to be aggressive, unless I'm told otherwise. We are in the middle of a division fight, and we want to stay in the fight."

Yet, this blow has the Yankees staggering against the ropes.

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