Masahiro Tanaka's baserunning injury has Yankees talking universal DH

Mark Townsend
Yahoo Sports Contributor

The New York Yankees placed Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list Saturday after the ace right-hander strained both hamstrings in Friday’s 4-1 win against the New York Mets.

If that sounds like an odd injury situation for a pitcher, that’s because it is. Tanaka actually suffered the strains while doing something he’s rarely done in MLB: Running the bases.

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Tanaka reached base in the fourth inning on an error, and then hobbled home on Aaron Judge’s sacrifice fly a few moments later.

The ailments are not considered to be serious. Tanaka described both as “low-grade” strains. He’ll undergo treatment for the next 3-7 days before the Yankees will determine the next course of action. But even if Tanaka’s return comes relatively quick, you can bet people will again start talking about making the designated hitter rule universal.

In fact, they’ve already acknowledged it in the Yankees clubhouse. And here’s a good reason why.

This has happened to Tanaka before

This is the second time in four years that Tanaka has been hurt while running the bases. In September of 2015, he suffered a hamstring strain while attempting to beat out a ground ball against the Mets at Citi Field.

The timing couldn’t have been much worse for New York then with the postseason right around the corner. Fortunately, Tanaka only missed one start that time around. He returned in time to make a final regular start before starting and losing the Wild-Card game against the Houston Astros.

The Yankees are obviously hopeful he’ll make a quick return this time too, though it’s obviously more complicated with both legs involved. With time less urgent, the Yankees will want to make sure he’s one-hundred percent.

Manager Aaron Boone weighs in

Before the Yankees placed their $155 million right-hander on the disabled list Saturday, rookie manager Aaron Boone made it clear where he stands on the DH debate.

“As I sit here now, yeah, I’d love the DH everywhere,” Boone told the New York Daily News. “I’d be in on that, especially with our team, and just how our roster’s built and how our team is built. I’d love it all the time.”

Boone’s message was clear, but it wasn’t as forceful as co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner’s rant on the DH 10 years ago when another Yankees pitcher was injured on the bases.

The Hank Steinbrenner rant

In June of 2008, Chien-Ming Wang’s season ended prematurely when he suffered a partially torn tendon in his foot while running the bases in Houston. That prompted Hank Steinbrenner to go on a George Steinbrenner type rant on the designated hitter rule.

“My only message is simple. The National League needs to join the 21st century,” Steinbrenner said after Wang’s injury. “They need to grow up and join the 21st century.

“Am I mad about it? Yes. I’ve got my pitchers running the bases, and one of them gets hurt. He’s going to be out. I don’t like that, and it’s about time they address it. That was a rule from the 1800s.”

A lot of people would put pitcher safety at the forefront of their argument for a universal designated hitter rule. Understandably so when you consider the investment teams are making in starting pitchers.

Others think the rule is simply outdated. With the game constantly evolving and with offensive firepower often fueling the most excitement on the field, replacing light-hitting pitchers with offensive-minded sluggers only seems natural.

The Yankees are clearly buying in to both school’s of thought. That was just as apparent 10 years ago as it was on Friday.

New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka strained both hamstrings on a trip around the bases. (AP)

Will the universal DH ever happen?

It seems inevitable. Just don’t count on it happening anytime soon. At least that’s the feeling we’ve gotten from MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

When pressed on the universal DH topic in recent years, Manfred has consistently said he doesn’t foresee that change coming. Other reports have suggested a softening of that stance in more recent times, but Tanaka’s injury isn’t going to put that over the top any more than the previous injuries have.

The universal DH is something MLB will institute when its in their best interests. It won’t be a reaction to circumstances like an injury. Injuries are just one thing that will make it easier to sell the universal DH when they’re good and ready.


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