Just minutes after the Yankees opened spring training 2.0 in The Bronx, Masahiro Tanaka suffered a frightening injury when he took a line drive off the right side of his head off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton during a simulated game Saturday.
Tanaka immediately fell on the mound, and action stopped as trainers rushed to the mound. He stayed down for approximately five minutes before sitting up. He was helped to his feet and walked off the field with the assistance of two trainers.
Tanaka was taken to NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital for further evaluation and testing. The Yankees announced afterward that Tanaka was “alert, responsive and walking under his own power,” and the team announced later in the evening that Tanaka had been released from the hospital and would enter the concussion protocol.
“I appreciate all the support,” Tanaka wrote on Twitter. “I feel it a bit right now, but I’m all good. Going to try to get back on the mound ASAP! Thanks again for all the encouraging words!”
Tanaka faced Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres before Stanton came to the plate, and Stanton doubled over as soon as the ball hit Tanaka. Stanton knows all too well the effects of being hit in the face, as he suffered a fractured jaw when he was drilled by a Mike Fiers pitch in 2014 when Stanton was with the Marlins.
“It stops you in your tracks,’’ manager Aaron Boone said. “It’s definitely a moment that gets your attention in a big-time way.”
It was a disastrous opening for the Yankees. Players started to report Wednesday following the three-month layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic followed by the labor dispute between MLB and the players association.
“It was horrible,’’ said Jordan Montgomery, who was finishing warming up before taking the mound. “To look over and see everyone huddled around him.”
When the workout resumed several minutes later, Montgomery replaced Tanaka, pitching behind an L-screen, and most of the players who had been scattered around the field had moved into the dugout.
Montgomery said he requested the screen following Tanaka’s injury.
“I was a little timid after seeing that,’’ Montgomery said. “I hadn’t planned on using [the screen]. After seeing that, I had it in the back of my head. … I was a little shaken up.”
Boone said the team “always” gives pitchers the option about whether to use the screen.
Aaron Hicks said it was hard to watch.
“Especially during something as simple as a sim game,” he said, “[but] anytime you step on a field, anything can happen.”
It’s been an ugly 2020 for MLB — and most other places, as well — and it only got worse for the Yankees on Saturday. Tanaka, 31, is entering the final season of his seven-year deal. He went 11-9 with a 4.45 ERA in 32 games (31 starts) in 2019.
Following the coronavirus-forced shutdown in March, an unseemly public dispute between the league and union erupted before MLB commissioner Rob Manfred implemented a 60-game schedule, slated to begin July 23 or 24.
There had been concern of players being more susceptible to injuries — especially pitchers — due to the extensive layoff and a short spring training reboot prior to the start of the abbreviated regular season.
The Yankees already dealt with plenty of injuries during the spring — with Judge shut down by a fractured rib likely suffered last September, Stanton sidelined by a strained calf and James Paxton slowed by a back injury that required surgery.
But Boone had said repeatedly that the sport’s hiatus might work to his team’s advantage, as it allowed Judge, Paxton and Stanton to regain their health — and for Hicks to return from offseason Tommy John surgery without missing any time.
Now they may have to deal with a Tanaka injury, which would leave them short in the rotation, with Jonathan Loaisiga, Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia or Mike King potentially filling in behind Gerrit Cole, Paxton, J.A. Happ and Montgomery. Luis Severino is out for the year following Tommy John surgery and Domingo German will also miss the season while on the suspended list after violating the league’s domestic violence protocol last year.
“We hope he avoided something really bad,’’ Boone said of Tanaka.