NEW YORK — So much for that pitching plan the Yankees had for Toronto.
Masahiro Tanaka has a strained right hamstring and won’t make his scheduled start for New York this week during a crucial series at the Blue Jays.
The right-hander got hurt running to first base after bunting Friday in an interleague game against the Mets at Citi Field. He pitched another five innings — pretty well, too — but an MRI on Saturday revealed a Grade 1 strain, the least severe.
“Our fear is that if he goes out there on Wednesday he could hurt it worse, and then you’re in a whole lot of trouble,” manager Joe Girardi said Sunday.
It’s a considerable blow to the Yankees, who hope Tanaka will miss only one turn. They juggled their rotation specifically so he could face the Blue Jays, who held a three-game lead in the AL East over New York going into Sunday night’s Subway Series finale.
Struggling right-hander Ivan Nova, recently removed from the rotation, will pitch in Tanaka’s place Wednesday night.
“I’m not looking at it as something very serious,” Tanaka said through a translator. “I feel it’s getting better and better each day.”
Tanaka has been the team’s best starter lately. He is 12-7 with a 3.38 ERA, including 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA in his last two outings against Toronto’s powerful lineup.
He acknowledged he tried to persuade the Yankees to let him start Wednesday but said he understands the decision.
“The season’s not over,” Tanaka said. “I’ll probably be able to pitch again.”
Tanaka will stay in New York to get three days of treatment rather than travel with the team to Toronto. The starting rotation already was missing 14-game winner Nathan Eovaldi, expected to be sidelined for the remainder of the regular season with elbow inflammation.
Adam Warren and rookie Luis Severino, slated to start the first two games of the Blue Jays series, were sent ahead to get some rest instead of flying overnight following Sunday night’s game against the Mets.
Nova is 6-8 with a 5.11 ERA in 14 starts since returning this season from Tommy John surgery. He was moved to the bullpen after giving up six runs and seven hits in 1 2-3 innings of a 10-7 home loss to the Blue Jays on Sept. 12.
“It’s not what you want to hear. You want to pitch every five days,” said Nova, who did throw seven solid innings in a win at Toronto on Aug. 14.
Nova has not appeared in a game since the demotion. He threw a side session Saturday and said he thinks the time off will be beneficial.
“He hasn’t been off starting that long, so that part shouldn’t be hard,” Girardi said. “He’s had some good starts and bad starts the last month. We’re just going to need a good start his next start.
“He’s been through it before,” the manager added. “He understands, and I think he’s looking forward to the challenge.”
It’s not the first time a front-line Yankees pitcher has been hurt after getting a rare opportunity to bat in a National League ballpark. Back in 2008, Chien-Ming Wang sustained a serious foot injury running the bases at Houston — before the Astros switched to the AL.
St. Louis Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright went down with a season-ending Achilles injury while batting early this year, prompting another round of commentary about pitchers at the plate and the designated hitter.
“It’s frustrating,” Girardi said. “You get concerned whenever your pitchers have to hit. You try to do everything you can to keep them from getting hurt. You try to prepare them, and (one thing) that you can’t prepare is that sudden burst that they have to make, and I think it happened in (Tanaka) trying to beat the play to first on the bunt.”
Still, Girardi is glad the American League uses the DH and the NL doesn’t.
Tanaka said he enjoys hitting, too.
“I actually like the separation of leagues. My complaint as I mentioned yesterday is that they don’t hit in the minor leagues and that makes no sense to me,” Girardi said. “We tell our guys to take it easy in situations. But I’ve often said that one of the reasons they are successful is the competitive nature inside of them and they understand the importance of runs, and it’s just hard.”
Mike Fitzpatrick, The Associated Press