CLEVELAND — The New York Yankees’ battered rotation may have suffered the most crucial loss of all.
Rookie sensation Masahiro Tanaka, who leads the majors with 12 wins, has been placed on the 15-day disabled list due to right elbow inflammation. He had an MRI in New York on Tuesday.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi admitted he’s concerned about Tanaka’s prognosis.
“You’re always worried when you have a guy go back for an elbow MRI,” he said. “It would be a big loss. Anytime you lose a starting pitcher, they’re hard to replace. And what he’s done for us, the innings and the wins and the quality of starts, it’s hard to replace.”
The Yankees, who have also lost pitchers CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova to injuries, are 45-44 and trail first-place Baltimore by four games in the AL East entering Wednesday.
Tanaka allowed five runs and 10 hits — both career highs — in 6 2-3 innings in a 5-3 loss to the Indians on Tuesday night. The All-Star is 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA in 18 starts, but has lost three of his past four outings.
“It goes without saying how important he’s been for us,” Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter said. “He’s been our go-to guy.”
The Yankees signed Tanaka, 25, to a seven-year contract in January after he had a standout career in Japan.
Tanaka began the season 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA, but hasn’t been as effective in his past four starts, going 1-3 with a 4.25 ERA.
He’s allowed eight home runs in his past five starts, including two on Tuesday, a two-run shot in the sixth to Nick Swisher that put Cleveland ahead and a solo blast by Michael Brantley in the seventh.
Girardi didn’t notice any sign that something was bothering Tanaka during the game.
“There wasn’t anything that led us to believe there was anything wrong,” he said. “He told the trainers that he just felt some soreness so we felt it was best to send him back and have an MRI. It’s the first time he’s complained (of it).”
Girardi said Christopher Ahmad, the team’s head physician, is in Seattle for a conference and hasn’t seen the pitcher.
Tanaka’s past two starts came on four days’ rest, the regular amount for major league pitchers. He pitched once a week in Japan.
Tanaka has anchored a shaky Yankees rotation. Sabathia may need season-ending knee surgery, and Nova had Tommy John surgery and won’t pitch again until next season.
The Yankees are 13-5 in games Tanaka has started. He has recorded 135 strikeouts and walked 19 in 129 1-3 innings. Tanaka has allowed 111 hits and opponents are batting .231 against him. He has given up 15 home runs.
“You just hope and pray that we get good news and it’s something minor,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “I worry about anybody, but he’s pretty special.”
Tanaka was scheduled to start Sunday against Baltimore, the final game before the All-Star break. Girardi said no decision has been made on who will take Tanaka’s spot.