Tanaka encouraged after 35-pitch live BP session Saturday
Facing Zelous Wheeler and Brendan Ryan, Tanaka threw 20 pitches in the "first inning" and then sat down for a few minutes before returning to throw 15 more, and all signs immediately after the outing were positive.
"I thought he was pretty good," manager Joe Girardi said. "He threw the first 20 pitches basically where he was telling the hitters what was coming, but I was pleased - and he felt good, which is the most important thing. The big thing is that he doesn't have pain and the ball is coming out okay."
Tanaka agreed that his elbow felt fine after the session, although as you might expect, he wasn't quite as happy with the performance.
"I felt that I wasn't able to hit my spots as much as I wanted to, and I was a little rusty, but there were some good balls I was able to throw," Tanaka said through interpreter Shingo Horie. "It's a good step, so I want to keep moving forward."
Tanaka compared that rust to what he might normally feel during spring training after he has had all winter off, and pitching coach Larry Rothschild agreed that it wasn't anything that seemed out of the ordinary.
"I think as he pitches and gets on the mound more, he'll feel sharper and get more comfortable," Rothschild said. "It's a process, but as long as he keeps feeling good, those are good steps."
Perhaps one of the biggest concerns in the minds of some is how a non-surgical rehab may affect Tanaka's bread-and-butter pitch, the splitter, upon his return. Rothschild's response was "that will be fine, and it's not even a concern," and Tanaka relayed a similar assessment.
"I think the split was a little rusty, but I feel that I was able to throw it the way I did before I got hurt, and I'm not scared at all when I'm throwing it," Tanaka said. "I think about (the ligament tear a little when I'm throwing, but I'm not saving anything when I throw a pitch."
That's how it looked to both the skipper and one of the hitters, too.
"The guys were talking about how hard it was to pick up the split and his arm motion, and that's a good sign because that means he's not babying it," Girardi said.
Added Wheeler: "He looked like everything was normal, he threw all his pitches and they all looked the same arm speed to me. The split still stood out to me too; I faced him early in spring training and I faced him today, and it looked exactly the same."
All in all, a positive step forward.
"It's a good progression, and as long as he's healthy, it's a step in the right direction," Rothschild said. "Being able to go out and throw 35 pitches and go through a full warm-up and everything is a positive. We'll see how he feels tomorrow, but he felt good afterwards, so that's a good sign."
Previous history with other pitchers indicates that the next step in Tanaka's progression would be either a simulated game or maybe even a rehab start, but neither the manager nor pitching coach would give a solid answer on what lies ahead for the righty.
"I'll see how he feels tomorrow and decide where we go and how many days in between action we go," Rothschild said, with Girardi adding that "We'll talk about it, whether it's another BP or a simulated game."
And as for a timetable, forget it, because as reticent as Girardi always is to say anything regarding that, it appears from his own stern answer that Rothschild is cut from the same cloth.
"I absolutely won't get into timetables."