TAMPA, Fla. -- Masahiro Tanaka threw 31 painless pitches in a bullpen session Monday morning at Steinbrenner Field, and according to Tanaka, his manager and his pitching coach, his recovery from offseason elbow cleanout surgery is proceeding according to schedule.
But when asked if the New York Yankees' $175 million right-hander -- $155 million for him and $20 million more for a posting fee to the Nippon Baseball league -- would be ready to take the mound on April 4, Opening Day at Yankee Stadium, none of them could provide a definitive answer.
Joe Girardi said he couldn't even say when his projected five starters -- Tanaka, Luis Severino, Michael Pineda, Nathan Eovaldi and either CC Sabathia or Ivan Nova -- would begin pitching in spring training games.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said: "I really don’t now right now. It’s obviously a real possibility but until I get down the path a little bit I’m not going to know that."
And Tanaka, who before pitchers and catchers reported last Thursday told reporters he wasn't sure if he would be ready for the opener, opted to sidestep the question altogether. "Right now, I don’t think it’s the right time or appropriate time to answer that," he said. "I just want to take it day-by-day and see where that takes me.''
The Yankees acknowledge that while they knew Tanaka had a bone spur in his elbow when they signed him, they had no idea it was troubling him during the 2015 season -- Tanaka said it wasn't -- and were unaware by Tanaka's request to have offseason surgery on the elbow, which also has a partially-torn UCL.
"We talk to them all the time, ask them how they feel," Girardi said. "What he went through last year, he could have told us and he probably wouldn’t have missed a start anyway because it was manageable."
Both Girardi and Rothschild said Tanaka showed no signs of discomfort on the mound last season. Tanaka said Monday that his elbow was "clearly better than it was pre-surgery," and said he never even thinks about the torn UCL, which was suffered midway through 2014, his first season as a Yankee.
"I'm not concerned with that anymore," he said.
Girardi and Tanaka agreed that in 2016, it may not be as necessary to give Tanaka an extra day's rest between starts. But that may be dictated as much by the thin Yankees starting staff as it is by renewed confidence in Tanaka's health. In 2015, Tanaka made only five of his 24 starts on what is considered a "normal" four days of rest.
“We’ll have to see how it works out and what we feel he needs,"' Girardi said. "If you do that, a lot of times you have to carry a six-man rotation. It could screw up your bullpen and do a lot of different things, but we’ll do what we have to do.”
Tanaka said that this year, the extra day's rest is "not necessary."
"If it's four days, I'll go on four days," he said.
He just doesn't know when that first day will be.