Inbox: How should Yankees handle Tanaka?

Beat reporter Bryan Hoch answers questions from fans

Inbox: How should Yankees handle Tanaka?

What will the Yankees do with Masahiro Tanaka as he continues to struggle? How long will they keep trotting him out there?
-- Mike T., Islip, N.Y.

It really is a mystery. A certain segment of the fan base likes to immediately point to the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament and say, "See? He should have had the surgery," but it's not that simple. To recap, several of the best doctors in the world said that Tanaka did not need surgery, and they were proven right when he pitched with success for years.

The Yankees say that Tanaka has not been seeking more time in the training room, so this doesn't seem to be a health issue. They wouldn't keep giving the ball to a player that they believed to be injured, and if he was, you wouldn't have seen outings like the April 27 shutout at Fenway Park or the 13-strikeout game against the A's on May 26 in New York.

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Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said that they've done "CSI: The Bronx" on Tanaka with their advanced analytics squad without being able to ascertain much except that his splitter isn't splitting like it usually does and his fastball command has been off. Velocity readings, swings and misses in the strike zone, his release point biomechanics -- these have not raised red flags.

Tanaka's strong start

Even in the last start against the Athletics, Tanaka struck out 10 despite only lasting four innings and surrendering three homers. That and his previous effort tell you that tells you the swing-and-miss stuff is still there. The bad news is, Tanaka doesn't seem to be able to maintain it over the course of a full outing.

This is an issue the Yankees haven't seen in Tanaka's previous three big league seasons. They're not going to send him to the Minors, and if the disabled list isn't an option, they really don't have much of a choice but to keep sending Tanaka out every fifth or sixth day and hope that he figures out how to correct whatever mechanical flaw is causing this.

What kind of actions might the Yankees consider at the non-waiver Trade Deadline? Where do they most need help and who's out there that might be a good fit?
-- Richard H., Brooklyn, N.Y.

At this moment, you'd have to figure the Yankees' top priority would be adding a starting pitcher for the stretch drive. MLB.com's Mark Feinsand has been tracking the Trade Deadline rankings since April, and he has linked the Yankees to the Royals' Jason Vargas, the Phillies' Jeremy Hellickson and -- to a lesser extent -- the A's Sonny Gray.

It would be fun to see the Yankees finally get their hands on the Pirates' Gerrit Cole, who slipped through their fingers when he didn't sign after being selected in the first round of the 2008 Draft. Cole grew up a Yankees fan and had front-row seats to Games 6 and 7 of the 2001 World Series, but his former favorite team seems unlikely to part with the top Minor League talent it would take to pry the righty from Pittsburgh.

If the Yankees no longer expect Greg Bird to return in a timely fashion, they also could take a look at adding the A's Yonder Alonso or Kansas City's Eric Hosmer to bolster their production at first base. It's remarkable that the Yankees have spent this much time in first place with such below-average production from their corner infielders.

Once Jacoby Ellsbury is healthy, will Aaron Hicks be that rotating fourth outfielder again?
-- T.J. H., Bismarck, N.D.

Earlier this month, manager Joe Girardi acknowledged that Hicks will still be an everyday player when Ellsbury returns. Hicks has been playing like a legitimate All-Star candidate, so it would be difficult for the Yankees to put him back on the bench. They'll find ways to give Brett Gardner and Aaron Judge days off, so Hicks might have to move around the outfield a little, but you can safely expect to see him in the lineup more days than not.

Hicks' second home run

When are Tyler Austin and Bird expected to rejoin the Yankees?
-- Stuart E., Bronx, N.Y.

It could be a while on both. The Yankees see Austin and Chris Carter as similar players -- right-handed bats who play first base and a little corner outfield -- and Cashman said that it doesn't make sense to carry both on the roster. Carter didn't win many fans in the first two months of the season, but over the last two weeks, he has gone 12-for-45 (.267) with four homers and nine RBIs for an .860 OPS.

Though the Yankees believe Bird's bone bruise has healed, his Minor League rehab assignment was shut down last week after Bird continued to report discomfort. A CT scan and MRI yielded no answers, so Bird will see Dr. Robert Anderson in Charlotte, N.C. on Tuesday. Anderson is the same specialist who performed surgery on Derek Jeter after his ankle fracture in the 2012 American League Championship Series.

Do the Yankees plan on putting Luis Severino on an innings count for this season?
-- Daniel E., Brooklyn, N.Y.

Severino threw 161 innings at three levels in 2015, including 62 1/3 in the Majors, and tallied 148 2/3 last season between the big leagues and the Minors. Given his 2015 numbers, he would have been on track to pitch about 200 innings in the Majors, though he obviously never got close because his performance as a starter was so poor.

If their target is anything less this year -- and they haven't said so publicly -- it should only be a slight dip. Severino has thrown 81 1/3 innings through 13 starts, so that puts him on pace for 187 1/3 if he were to make 30 starts. Given his age and strength (Girardi often marvels that Severino's stuff doesn't seem to taper off the third time through the lineup), that shouldn't be an issue.

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.