Major League Baseball is approaching its annual All-Star festivities and it gives clubs time to rest and relax. For some, however, the respite isn't long enough to lick wounds and prepare for the stretch run.
A pitcher's worst nightmare is an elbow injury and it could either mean a stint on the disabled list or a visit to the surgeon.
New York Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka is hoping he won't have to see an operating table on his ailing right arm. The Japanese phenom experienced discomfort in his elbow during Tuesday's start against Cleveland and exited after 6 2/3 innings, charged with five runs and 10 hits, including two home runs.
Tanaka was examined in Seattle by Yankees physician Christopher Ahmad as well as orthopedist Dr. David Altchek and Los Angeles Dodgers physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache.
It is not known how long Tanaka may have experienced pain in the elbow, but his record says otherwise. Before the Indians jumped on the rookie, the All- Star had a 12-3 record, a 2.27 ERA and led the majors in wins. Tanaka also ranked second in the AL and sixth in the majors in ERA.
But the Yankees are now holding their collective breath because Tanaka is suffering from a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow, a diagnosis a pitcher never wants to see on the chart. On the bright side, if there actually is one, it's not a complete tear and perhaps Tanaka can rehab the injury and avoid season-ending Tommy John surgery.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said the tear is described as "small" and the prized right-hander is slated to have a platelet-rich plasma injection administered next week in New York.
"He's not the first guy to have this, and guys have been able to rehab it and get back and pitch successfully," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It is what it is. We aren't going to have him for at least six weeks, and that's the tough part. But I'm optimistic that we'll have him back."
The Yankees will be prepared to move on without Tanaka this season if, ultimately, elbow ligament replacement surgery is recommended. Already without CC Sabathia (knee), Ivan Nova (elbow) and Michael Pineda (shoulder), the Yankees will have to continue to fight in the AL East with Hiroki Kuroda, newly acquired Brandon McCarthy and youngsters David Phelps, Chase Whitley and Shane Greene.
Tanaka's injury could possibly translate into the Yankees being heavy buyers at the MLB trade deadline later this month. Tune in for that around July 31.
"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."
The Yankees aren't the only ones in a division fight right now.
The Cincinnati Reds are knocking on the NL Central door and are experiencing some pain, too. Second baseman Brandon Phillips is expected to miss about six weeks with a left thumb injury and will have surgery Friday. Phillips sustained the injury while fielding a ground ball on Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs and his loss leaves the Reds without two of their best hitters: Phillips and Joey Votto (quadriceps).
"It's a big blow," Reds manager Bryan Price said of losing Phillips. "He's a great two-way player, and he's been really consistent for us offensively. He's sat in the middle of the order, mostly No. 3 and 4 most of the year. And he's been spectacular defensively. So definitely a blow, but we'll weather it."
Phillips is batting .272 with seven home runs and 40 RBI this season, and the Reds will likely go with Ramon Santiago at second base. Santiago will be turning double plays with shortstop Zack Cozart, who said it's going to be tough without Phillips on the field and at the plate.
Reds outfielder Skip Schumaker weighed in on the recent news.
"I feel like we've had our team healthy for about a month this whole year," Schumaker said. "So it's been a tough road, no doubt about it. It just hasn't been one guy; it's been about three or four superstars. Brandon's a big part of this organization and a big part of this team. He's our three-hole hitter; that's tough to replace. I haven't seen anything like this, it's crazy. It seems like right when we get someone back, another guy goes down."
If news couldn't get any worse for the Reds, outfielder Billy Hamilton is now bothered with a hamstring injury, but it's not deemed serious. Starting pitcher Homey Bailey is hampered by a knee issue and should make his next start after the All-Star break. Bailey will probably be put on the back end of the rotation when his turn comes up.
The St. Louis Cardinals are just ahead of the Reds in the NL Central and will play the next eight to 12 weeks without All-Star catcher Yadier Molina due to a thumb injury. Molina will have surgery Friday after suffering a ligament tear, and one of the best battery mates in recent history leaves the Cardinals with a major void behind the plate.
"I almost cried," Molina said of learning the magnitude of his injury. "For me, being out this long is frustrating. It is what it is, you have to get the rehab and get back as soon as you can."
Molina, the winner of the fan vote to start Tuesday's All-Star Game, went down in Wednesday's win over Pittsburgh and his absence will most likely get the front office moving on a replacement. Tony Cruz is Molina's backup and should expect some competition coming this month. St. Louis also has Audry Perez.
"I've got great comfort in Tony and Perez, they know what they're doing, and I'm 100 percent confident with them," Molina said. "I know they're going to do well, and I'm going to do my best to come back as soon as possible."
Other notable players hoping to come back soon are Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher C.J. Wilson (ankle), Philadelphia Phillies starter Cliff Lee (elbow), Indians starter Justin Masterson (knee), Kansas City Royals starter Jason Vargas (appendicitis), Minnesota Twins starting pitcher Ricky Nolasco (elbow), Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Josh Beckett (hip) and Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (oblique).
Also, Indians outfielder Michael Bourn (hamstring), Seattle Mariners first baseman Justin Smoak (quadriceps), Atlanta Braves catcher/outfielder Evan Gattis (back), Pittsburgh Pirates starter Gerrit Cole (lat), San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera (foot) and starter Andrew Cashner (shoulder), and San Francisco Giants center fielder Angel Pagan (back).