Saturday was the Yankees’ first official summer workout, a routine bit of preparation to start their coronavirus-shortened 2020 season. Instead of an ordinary practice at Yankee Stadium, the team witnessed a frightening incident in which a key pitcher was hit on the head with a line drive. And later in the day, it announced that two other players were absent from practice because they had tested positive for Covid-19.
Masahiro Tanaka, a two-time All-Star, lay motionless on the ground after being struck with a ball off the bat of his teammate, the slugger Giancarlo Stanton. Tanaka eventually sat up and walked off the field with two athletic trainers by his side. He was released from NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital on Saturday night after being evaluated for concussion-like symptoms.
The Yankees also announced positive tests for star infielder D.J. LeMahieu and pitcher Luis Cessa with their permission, as league rules prevent teams from naming players without consent.
LeMahieu and Cessa remain isolated at their homes and will need to test negative before traveling to New York to join the team, Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said. LeMahieu has been asymptomatic, while Cessa has shown “very mild” symptoms of the virus.
“We’ll see how that continues to unfold the next several days,” Boone said.
Tanaka, who returned to his native Japan soon after the season had been suspended in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, was facing a pair of Yankees power hitters, Aaron Judge and Stanton, at Yankee Stadium on Saturday afternoon as he threw in front of coaches for the first time in months.
But Tanaka had little time to react when Stanton, who hits the ball as hard as anyone in baseball, drilled a line drive toward the mound. The ball struck the right-handed Tanaka on the right side of the head, knocking him to the ground, where he lay for at least five minutes while cradling his head.
“It sucks to see something like that, especially during something as simple as a sim game,” outfielder Aaron Hicks said in a video news conference with reporters.
After the ball hit Tanaka, Stanton immediately crouched down and put his hand on his helmet, seemingly upset that he had hit hurt his teammate. With the Miami Marlins in 2014, Stanton sustained facial fractures and needed multiple dental procedures when he was hit in the left cheek by a pitch from Mike Fiers, then with the Milwaukee Brewers.
“It’s incredibly unfortunate what happened today,” Boone said. “In a lot of ways, we’re hopeful we avoided something really bad happening.”
Tanaka, 31, is in his final season of a seven-year, $155 million contract he signed with the Yankees before the 2014 season, in which he was selected as an All-Star. He was also an All-Star in 2019, a season in which he posted a 4.45 earned run average over 182 innings.
Tanaka had been pitching without a so-called L screen, a protective barrier often used during practice sessions. But after seeing Tanaka get hurt, pitcher Jordan Montgomery said he was so shaken up that he requested one, which he had not originally planned on using.
“It’s horrible,” Montgomery said, adding later: “I hope he’s OK. I’m thinking and praying for him right now.”
Last year, the Yankees set a major league record with 30 players spending time on the injured list.