Tanaka could return to six-man rotation

NEW YORK -- With Masahiro Tanaka moving closer to a return, the Yankees are considering going with a six-man rotation at some point in September and could do it for the entire 2015 season, according to pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

“We are going to look at every avenue possible,” Rothschild said. “It doesn’t mean we are going to do it.”

Rothschild said the Yankees will do it to not only protect Tanaka, but the entire staff in the wake of the elbow epidemic that has hit major league baseball. Tanaka has missed more than a month because of a slight UCL tear in his right elbow.

On Saturday -- in front of a large media contingent -- Tanaka threw a total of 35 pitches to Zelous Wheeler and Brendan Ryan over two innings of BP. He sat down between the first and second for a few minutes to simulate a normal game.

"He felt good and that is the most important thing," Joe Girardi said.

Tanaka said he was a little "cautious," but he threw all his pitches, including his splitter, and Rothschild thought his arm strength was good. The Yankees wouldn't say what the next step will be but it is likely a simulated game.

“We thought it was a good progression,” Rothschild said.

In September, the Yankees will need six starters at the end of the season because their schedule includes more games than days.

“We have 21 games in 20 days so we are going to have to use six starters at some point,” said Rothschild. “So I think everyone in baseball is going to look for alternative ways to keep guys healthy. If that’s part of what is on the radar, you look at it and consider it.”

Rothschild first made his six-man rotation comments to the New York Post.

It would make some sense for next year because no matter what the Yankees do this offseason they will enter spring training with uncertainty. CC Sabathia will be returning from knee surgery. Ivan Nova won't be ready until some point during the season. Hiroki Kuroda and Brandon McCarthy are both free agents at the end of the year. Tanaka's elbow will be a question mark going forward because surgery is always a possibility. The Yankees will also have David Phelps, Adam Warren and possibly Manny Banuelos and Luis Severino as potential 2015 starters.

The six-man rotation could be a way for the Yankees to add a free agent like Jon Lester and make sure there are enough slots for all their starters. In Japan, starters pitch only once a week. There are some drawbacks.

“It cuts your bullpen short,” Rothschild said. “There are maybe ways to work out around it that you have to be creative about. Some starters would rather work on a fifth day. CC, in his prime, loved pitching every fifth day. He thrived on it.”

Rothschild stressed a move to a six-man rotation won't be made just for Tanaka.

“It is not one or two guys, it is the five or six guys,” Rothschild said.

Lefty-lefty: With Derek Jeter resting, Joe Girardi put Jacoby Ellsbury first and Brett Gardner second in his order.

"I put him there and Gardy behind him because Gardy is a guy who really works the count and if Jake is on, it gives him a chance to do some things," Girardi said. "They sent their lefty reliever out so I don't have to worry about stacking lefties."

Girardi said he wouldn't have had a different lineup if the White Sox hadn't sent down lefty Eric Surkamp. Surkamp's ERA was 8.53.

Beltran's back: Carlos Beltran, after missing three games because of a third cortisone shot in his right elbow, is back in the lineup as the DH on Saturday.