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Masahiro Tanaka’s Yankees status unclear after scary head injury

Masahiro Tanaka’s recovery from taking a 112-mph line drive off Giancarlo Stanton’s bat on the right side of his head on July 4 is going well, according to the veteran right-hander, for which he is thankful.

However, the chance of Tanaka being ready to start the fourth or fifth game of the regular season that opens next Thursday in Washington isn’t so clear.

“I am not sure, but obviously the injury is at the head,’’ Tanaka said through an interpreter on Tuesday via a Zoom call from Yankee Stadium before the team played an intrasquad game. “It is something I need to be cautious about, kind of take it careful more so than other injuries. As of now it’s a step-by-step process.’’

Should Tanaka not be available at the start of the season, manager Aaron Boone and pitching coach Matt Blake have several options. They could use Chad Green as an opener, piggy-back relievers, or turn to Mike King or Jonathan Loaisiga to start.

Tanaka said he hasn’t experienced any concussion symptoms since leaving the hospital after being hit. But he also hasn’t been back on a mound yet. On Monday, he long-tossed in the outfield and went through an exercise program with no issues.

Masahiro Tanaka Yankees
Tanaka is seen running in the outfield on Monday.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

Tanaka, a free agent at season’s end, said there is no exact schedule but he knows the first move is getting back on a mound.

“Obviously, the next step for me is getting on the mound for a side or bullpen [session],’’ Tanaka said. “We are taking the necessary steps to get there. This whole thing is kind of a day-by-day process. Hopefully I am able to get back on the mound sooner rather than later.’’

Eventually Tanaka, 31, is going to face a hitter 60 feet, 6 inches away for the first time since getting hit above the right temple.

“As of now I think everything will be OK once I step on the mound,’’ Tanaka said when asked about being apprehensive facing hitters. “But you really don’t know until you face a live hitter. And at that point in time you might feel some worries or concern getting back on the mound but as of now I feel OK getting back on the mound.’’

Masahiro Tanaka line drive Giancarlo Stanton
Tanaka is attended to by the medical staff after he was hit in the head by a line drive hit by Giancarlo Stanton.Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

When spring training was shut down on March 12 due to the coronavirus, Tanaka decided it was best for his family to leave Tampa and return to Japan. He was vague about the reason he felt that way then, and Tuesday he said it was best for his family to go home.

“I don’t think I necessarily want to go into details about that at this point,’’ Tanaka said when asked whether there was an incident that caused him to leave Tampa. “It was more of what was best for my family. Obviously there were some incidents but someone had to make a decision of what we were going to do. Considering everything, I thought going back to Japan would make the most sense for our family.’’

While in Japan, Tanaka said he found a bullpen to work in.

“I feel like I did the best I could,” he said.

Thanks to COVID-19, Tanaka grappled with playing this season but in the end he opted to report.

“I did think it through and it wasn’t an easy decision, but I decided to come back here and play. Now that I have made that decision I will give my best,’’ Tanaka said.

And be thankful he wasn’t hurt worse.

“It is a very unfortunate event, but I feel like I got very fortunate because it could have been something that is much worse,’’ said Tanaka, who has trouble watching other pitchers get hit but has viewed the film of him being struck numerous times.

“Right now, I have no symptoms at all.’’

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