New York Yankees Rumors: Masahiro Tanaka Aiming For September Return, Prepares For Bullpen Session [VIDEO]
New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka will throw three innings and 45 pitches to his teammates at Comerica Park Thursday morning prior to the Yankees-Tigers series finale in Detroit and he is hopeful if all goes well he can return to the rotation in mid-September.
Tanaka has been on the disabled list since July 9 with a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament -- an ailment that often leads to Tommy John surgery -- and has taken a slow and steady approach to try to return without undergoing the procedure.
If it all goes really well for the Yankees, Tanaka will avoid he surgery that usually comes along with an at least year-long recovery and he could conceivably return on Sept. 12 when the Yankees play the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards. The twin bill comes in the wake of an Aug. 12 rainout.
While it is a good sign that Tanaka is able to pitch in a simulated game and hasn't experienced a set-back, Yankees manager Joe Girardi isn't looking too far into it until he ramps up his recovery process with no issues.
"You obviously feel better that it's going to happen, but I still talk about the intensity of a major league game compared to a minor league game or a simulated game," Girardi told ESPN New York. "Those are the hurdles that you have to go through."
With the minor league schedule ending Sept. 1, the Bronx Bombers won't be able to send Tanaka down to put in some work on the lower levels and he'll likely pitch in simulated games three or four more times until he is ready to return.
Girardi cautioned that even though the Yankees have a set throwing plan for Tanaka, it doesn't mean he won't experience any set-backs.
"I think you plan it out, and it's either going to work or it's not going to work," Girardi said. "As long as you're having steps in the right direction, it's working. That doesn't mean that it's a guarantee. It's not like rehabbing a hamstring or something like that where you can have a setback, and we've got to set him down. If it doesn't work, it doesn't work. If you have a setback, it probably means surgery."
New York is entrenched in a playoff race right now and playing an important series with Detroit. The Yankees are 2.5 games behind the Seattle Mariners for the final wild-card spot heading into Thursday's rubber match with the Tigers, who trail the M's by a half-game.
Tanaka, 25, has been dominant in Japan and was enjoying a great rookie season in the MLB, going 12-4 in 18 games with a 2.51 ERA, 1.005 and 135 strikeouts before the injury.