Tanaka making progress: 'I feel very lucky'

July 14th, 2020

NEW YORK -- The scorching liner departed from Giancarlo Stanton’s bat as a 112 mph blur, too quick for to recognize, let alone react to. The resulting scene is one that his Yankees teammates hope to never see again, but that hasn’t stopped the righty from replaying the video “many, many times” in the last 10 days.

“I'm never able to see other pitchers in the same situation get struck in their head or anything like that. I mean, that kind of frightens me,” Tanaka said through an interpreter on Tuesday. “But for some reason, I'm able to see myself get struck in the head by a ball. I don't know why. It's kind of weird.”

That is a glimpse into how the “same old Masa,” as left-hander James Paxton recently described his companion in the Bombers’ rotation, has handled one of the scariest incidents to take place on the Yankee Stadium diamond since the facility opened its gates in 2009.

Tanaka sustained a concussion when he was drilled near the right temple by Stanton’s liner on July 4, a moment that prompted Stanton to immediately crouch in anguish. Though he remains under Major League Baseball’s concussion protocol, Tanaka’s progress since that date has been nothing short of remarkable.

“I feel very lucky because it could have been something that's much worse,” Tanaka said. “Right now, I have no symptoms at all. I'm able to get back in all the training, so I think I feel very fortunate in a very unfortunate event.”

In recent days, Tanaka has been playing catch across the outfield grass and is pushing to resume tossing in the bullpen. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said that a date for the 31-year-old to climb the mound has not been determined, but the manager is encouraged by Tanaka’s progress.

“I don't want to say I’m surprised, because I felt at least a little bit of relief when I went out there immediately,” Boone said. “Look, it's a scary thing, and one of those things that happens unfortunately in our game every now and again. That’s about as startling a moment as you can have on the baseball field. At least in the immediate when I saw him out there, I felt pretty good with how he was responding.”

When Summer Camp opened, Tanaka figured to be stationed near the front of the Yankees’ rotation, following right-hander Gerrit Cole and perhaps Paxton in the pitching order.

Tanaka said that he kept in shape by tossing regularly in Japan, where he returned with his wife and children after they experienced what the pitcher described as “some incidents” following the conclusion of Spring Training in Tampa, Fla. Tanaka previously referenced the topic via Instagram and Twitter on April 2.

“I don't think I want to necessarily go into details about that at this point,” Tanaka said. “I think I said what I wanted to say through some social media at that time, but it was … considering what's best, what was best for the family. Obviously, there were some incidents and someone had to make the decision of what we were going to do. Just considering everything, I thought that going back to Japan would make the most sense for our family.”

Though Tanaka seems likely to begin the regular season on the 10-day injured list, it is possible that the hurler could be activated during the Bombers’ first road trip if he shows progress.

“I think we're taking the necessary steps to get there,” Tanaka said. “This whole thing is kind of a day-by-day process. We're taking it day by day. But hopefully I'm able to get back on the mound sooner rather than later and compete out there.”