Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Adam Wainwright Shows New York May Survive Tanaka’s Elbow Injury

The New York Yankees will be the first to tell you that they are dealing with uncharted waters here with the elbow injury to Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka had a 10% or less tear of his ulnar collateral ligament, which in laymen’s terms is a micro-tear, and four different doctors including Tommy John surgery specialist Dr. James Andrews prescribed rest and rehabilitation for Tanaka. I don’t have any numbers or list of players that have went this direction and succeeded but honestly I’m sure the list is not all that significant but one name stuck out at me, Adam Wainwright.

Wainwright is the ace of the St. Louis Cardinals and his name was brought up many times when talking about Tanaka and the route the Yankees and their doctors decided to go. Wainwright pitched for close to 10 years with a minor tear in his UCL and with elbow pain and did quite well with it. Wainwright stated that he first started feeling elbow pain in middle school and did not require Tommy John surgery until the 2011 season with the Cardinals.

For a guy who pitched needing Tommy John surgery and with a small tear in his UCL Wainwright did quite well for quite some time. Wainwright was drafted in the year 2000 and passed all physicals, MRI’s and other tests associated with being drafted. Wainwright actually had no problems out of the elbow until the 2005 season when he was shut down with an elbow strain after just 12 games for Triple-A Memphis. Wainwright even won a 2006 World Series championship and threw a no hitter in August of 2009 with the partially torn UCL. Wainwright did not tear the UCL bad enough to require surgery until spring training of the 2011 season when he experienced some discomfort in his right elbow while throwing batting practice in late February.

Wainwright struggled a bit, as expected, in 2012 going 14-13 but led the National League in victories in 2013 with 19 wins and is well on his way to another phenomenal season in 2014. The Yankees only have Tanaka signed for six more seasons, assuming he does not exercise his opt out clause after year five. If the Yankees can get two starts out of Tanaka this season, including the start on Sunday, and rest him all offseason I truly think the team can be in good condition. Tanaka is unlikely to throw in any winter leagues or equivalents this year so he will get three or four months of true rest on the elbow. I’m sure he will undergo a flurry of tests and scans after the season as well to take a closer look at the elbow just in case.

Wainwright may be the exception and not the rule but he also can give Yankees fans hope that they caught this injury early enough that there can be two exceptions to every rule. Let’s hope. 

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