Tanaka to face hitters Saturday


NEW YORK -- The next step in Masahiro Tanaka's rehabilitation from a torn ulnar collateral ligament occurs before Saturday afternoon's game against the White Sox, when the Yankees' ace right-hander is scheduled to face a couple of his teammates in a live batting practice session off the mound, probably at Yankee Stadium.

Manager Joe Girardi did not know what time the session would take place or which hitters Tanaka would face -- or, in fact, if it would even take place at the ballpark, although that seems likely -- but the fact that Tanaka has been cleared to throw to hitters is a positive sign that he might be able to pitch in a few games in September.

If all goes well, Tanaka could eventually progress to a simulated game or two, followed by a few rehab starts in the minor leagues before possibly making a few starts in the final weeks of the season. By then, the Yankees' playoff fate may already be decided -- they begin Thursday's play in third place in the AL East, 9½ games behind the Baltimore Orioles and five games out, behind four teams, for the second wild-card spot. But a Tanaka return would be geared more toward gauging his fitness for next season and the possibility of success in rehabbing a serious elbow injury without Tommy John surgery.

Tanaka was 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 129⅓ innings when he got injured pitching in a July 8 game against the Indians in Cleveland.