Masahiro Tanaka 'heading in right direction' after good bullpen session

ST PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 16: Masahiro Tanaka #19 of the New York Yankees pitches in his first bullpen session since being placed on the disabled list at Tropicana Field on August 16, 2014 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)

Ater being diagnosed with a partially torn UCL in his right elbow on July 10, the baseball world awaited what seemed to be inevitable news that New York Yankees rookie Masahiro Tanaka would require season-ending Tommy John surgery. However, just a little more than one month later, Tanaka is still attempting to rehab with an eye towards avoiding surgery, and so far the scales seem to be tipping in his favor.

On Saturday morning, Tanaka threw 25 fastballs off a bullpen mound for the first time since receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection three weeks ago, and the news is definitely encouraging.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Tanaka said. “So I feel really good about it.”

Tanaka said he wasn’t throwing at 100 percent effort, but he also said this felt like a better session than his first bullpen of spring training.

“I felt that I was able to throw the way that wanted to,” he said. “… I was able to get through it without any pain.”

Tanaka started his comeback with a 50-pitch game of catch on Aug. 4, so he's progressing nicely. Next, he'd like to be cleared to throw offspeed pitches, but pitching coach Larry Rothschild told the New York Daily News that they'll have to see how Tanaka responds on Sunday before making any further decisions.  

“It’s more important how he feels (Sunday),” pitching coatch Larry Rothschild said. “It’s great he got through it today and feels good, but it’s just a daily thing.”

It probably won't turn into a Matt Harvey-Terry Collins situation, but it seems like Tanaka will remain determined to return until someone tells him it's not happening.

(Getty Images)

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"I think it's important for the team to fight until the end of the season, so for me, if it would be possible, I'd like to contribute until the end of the season," Tanaka said.

The Yankees are on board with that idea. Looking ahead to 2015, there is a great deal of uncertainty in their starting rotation, and it would be useful to know if Tanaka can realistically be counted upon.

"I think it's important that we know that he's healthy, and I think the only way you're going to find out is if you get him in games," manager Joe Girardi said.

Girardi's right, but Rothschild's comment is the one to remember — it's a daily process.

The Yankees will not push Tanaka in any way. As long as he's honest about how he's feeling, they will respond accordingly, but right now it's anybody's guess how it will truly play out. 

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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