MLB: New York Yankees at Tampa Bay RaysThough Carlos Beltran has said he felt ready to go, before spring training began, Joe Girardi is reportedly taking it slowly with the 38 year-old veteran right fielder, planning to play him for the first time on Friday. Well, though that is only 3 days into the spring training game schedule – not a significant delay – I still don’t get why Beltran waited until September 30th to have loose bodies and a bone spur removed from his right elbow. With the 2014 season going nowhere, an established need for surgery, and his personal numbers taking a hit (.233/.301/.402 with 15 home runs and 49 RBI in 403 at-bats), why the push to wait until the off-season?

In Beltran’s defense, he and the Yankees’ medical team may have decided that since the surgery required only the removal of structures – rather than any type of repair – that the recovery process would not be hampered by the need for the important tissues of the area to undergo a lengthy healing process. That is generally true of surgeries like the one Beltran had, as opposed to procedures that entail restoring function after any type of reconstruction or repair of muscle, tendon or labrum. Beltran should be fine (and he’d better be if he will have to throw from right field rather than DH).

However, despite that, it seems more prudent to me – particularly with older players who may require more healing time – to opt for surgery earlier and allow for a longer period of rehab, particularly in a non-playoff situation. This ensures the best possible recovery and minimizes risk of returning to play (even practice) sooner than medically desirable.

As for Tanaka…

imagesThe Yankees are certainly taking more of a crapshoot with starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who sustained a partial ulnar collateral ligament tear last season. Tanaka returned at the end of the regular season to pitch two games after a lengthy absence. Despite his effectiveness in those appearances and his progress to date, even GM Brian Cashman stated rather candidly “If Tanaka’s healthy he’s going to be successful, I know that. If not, it will declare itself over time and we’ll deal with it.”

Let’s face it; the fact that Tanaka and his pitching coach, Larry Rothschild, have been pleased with his bullpen sessions to this point is by no means indicative of the way his season will go. Tanaka has been ramping up the force with which he pitches while reportedly improving his location and limiting his number of tosses. Though Tanaka claims to be “on the right track”, even a cautious rehab and return to the mound far from guarantees his success.

Few have succeeded in returning from UCL injury after conservative management alone. I hope to be proven wrong for having hoped that Tanaka would opt for the more aggressive approach of surgery first. It seemed to me that he would be ready to pitch at some point this season – even if only toward the latter portion – with little risk of sacrifice of an additional year. Now, who knows? It does seem likely that Tanaka – a fastball pitcher with an injury such as this so early in his career – is destined for Tommy John surgery. The real question is, if not now, when?

Follow Abby on Twitter @abcsims.


About the author

Abby serves as the Injury Expert for CBS New York where, since 2010, her Injury Breakdown Blog examines injuries in professional sports. She also blogs on health & fitness as well as sports injuries for Huffington Post, and Recovery Physical Therapy.com, where her blog earned a top ten mention for physical therapy blogs in 2012 @ WorldWideLearn.com. In a ranking of the Top 30 Healthcare Blogs for 2012, Top Masters in Healthcare also rated Abby’s blog in the top three in Physical Therapy! Abby is the founder of Fit-Screen and she welcomes your comments and questions!

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