CLEVELAND -- The one real highlight of the New York Yankees' 2014 season, the chance to watch Masahiro Tanaka pitch every five days, was put on hold indefinitely Wednesday when the 25-year-old right-hander was placed on the 15-day disabled list with what the Yankees are calling elbow inflammation.
The situation might turn out to be far more serious than that -- elbow pain often is a sign of a torn ulnar collateral ligament and a precursor to Tommy John surgery -- but the Yankees declined to divulge the exact nature of Tanaka's injury because he has yet to be examined by their team physician, Dr. Christopher Ahmad.
Tanaka flew from New York to Seattle on Thursday morning to be examined by Ahmad, who is attending a conference of orthopedic surgeons. Dr. James Andrews, who is also at the conference, might also examine Tanaka, according to a baseball source.
"I think you always worry when a guy has an elbow MRI," manager Joe Girardi said. "But until Dr. Ahmad sees him, I don't have much more for you."
Tanaka, who leads the AL with 12 wins and a 2.51 ERA and is a leading candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards, may undergo further testing in Seattle, including a dye-contrast MRI, the source said.
Tanaka, who had an MRI after he was flown to New York on Wednesday, complained to team trainers about elbow soreness following a subpar performance in Tuesday night's 5-3 Yankees loss to the Indians. He uncharacteristically struggled with his control, blew a 3-1 lead, and surrendered two long home runs in the sixth and seventh innings to Nick Swisher and Michael Brantley.
"It's obviously soreness," Girardi said. "I'm not saying it's a significant injury. There's soreness, and he must have felt that it was affecting him a little bit. So we felt it was best to send him back and have an MRI."
It was the fourth loss of the season for Tanaka and his third in the past four games, a decline that coincides with his pitching for the first time this season on standard four days' rest in successive starts. The Yankees had managed to give Tanaka at least one extra day of rest every other start in deference to the practice in Japanese baseball of pitching once every seven days, a schedule Tanaka had followed for seven seasons in the Nippon Baseball League.Girardi said he did not believe the elbow problem was the cause of Tanaka's recent struggles.
"It's the first time he's complained about it,'' Girardi said.
Tanaka's final pitch Tuesday night, his 99th of the game, was a 91 mph sinker that Carlos Santana lined hard for a single.
"The ball was coming out good. He was just up in the zone, so I didn't think anything of it," said Brian McCann, who caught Tanaka on Tuesday night. "The only thing from yesterday was that his pitches didn't have the sharp action they've had in the past. I didn't notice anything. It was a surprise when I [heard the news] today."