Girardi, Rothschild react to Tanaka's live BP session
Tanaka threw all of his pitches in the outing, which saw him also simulate game situations by sitting down for a few minutes after 20 throws. It was the first time the Yankees right-hander had faced live batters, which in this case consisted of Brendan Ryan and Zelous Wheeler.
In terms of the next step, the Yankees will have to monitor how Tanaka feels tomorrow before making a decision on his next outing's length. "We'll talk about it, whether it's another BP or simulated game," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The big thing is to see how he feels tomorrow and then make a decision."
With time running out in the minor league season, it may indeed be more realistic for Tanaka to throw more of these simulated games, rather than actual minor league rehab starts. "I'm not exactly sure how we're going to do it," Girardi said. "But we'll be creative enough with whatever we have to do to get him ready."
Arm strength is another concern with Tanaka, considering that he's practically back to where he was at the beginning of spring training. The hope of Saturday's session, in addition to reinforcing the health of his elbow, was to help dictate the stamina and strength in his arm to the Yankees coaching staff.
"I thought it was good for where he is and the time off he's had," said pitching coach Larry Rothschild. "It wasn't where it was before he got hurt, but I didn't expect it to be. This is another step in the progression so we'll keep going with it."
The splitter is Tanaka's best pitch, but it's also a grip and motion that can be hard on the arm and elbow. Tanaka doesn't seem to be afraid to throw it, however, and both Wheeler and Ryan noticed that easily.
"The guys were talking about how hard it was to pick up the split, and his arm motion," Girardi said. "And that's a good sign because that means he's not babying it."
Despite the fact that Tommy John Surgery hasn't been recommended to Tanaka to this point, a torn ligament is always an eye opener, especially a tear of the UCL, no matter how small.
"I don't know how it's not in the back of your mind when a guy has a ligament issue," said Girardi. "The big thing is to try to get through the year, and you feel that if you get through the year then you're out of the woods in a sense."
Girardi also mentioned that Tanaka's rehab is a route that many guys in the league have gone through, which is true. The Cardinals' Adam Wainwright worked through many elbow issues and was able to postpone Tommy John Surgery for years. And although "postponing the inevitable" may not seem like the perfect scenario, it would at least give Tanaka a few years to work with.
"You only operate when the tear is substantial," Girardi said. "For us to do anything different to me would be silly; maybe it doesn't tear fully for four or five years and he's okay. You have to take this opportunity to try to do it the conservative way because it's not a complete tear."
Another reason why a minor league rehab start may not be in the cards for Tanaka is the constant communication between him and Rothschild, who was watching with a close eye throughout today's session.
"Naturally I'm going to check with him when he takes a break, because you don't want to overdo it," said Rothschild. "Part of the process is just getting back to pitching and not thinking about it, but you always want to check and make sure you should keep going."