Sunday September 7th, 2014

New York Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka said Saturday he felt "better" and "stronger" after throwing a bullpen session, a key step in his road back from a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.

Tanaka threw 34 pitches in the Yankees' bullpen Saturday, and he said the arm soreness that had caused him to be shut down last week was gone. 

“I feel that it’s way stronger than it was, so way better,” Tanaka told reporters, according to The Journal News' Chad Jennings. “I think the fatigue is done.”

The bullpen session's smooth landing is a significant step for Tanaka in his rehab. The Yankees are hoping to have him pitch in a game this season, either with the major-league team or in a simulated game after the season. The team wants to see if he can pitch with the partially torn ligament in his elbow. If he has trouble, it would likely mean he would face Tommy John surgery. 

"He has to throw," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said this week, according to "You can't wait until next spring.

"If you shut him down, it's surgery. It's not like it's going to be, 'Well, let's see how it is next year.' We're going to proceed and it's either going to be he's healthy or he needs surgery.''

Despite suffering an injury that typically results in Tommy John surgery, the Yankees and Tanaka opted to use a six-week rehab program to see if he could avoid the procedure. Tanaka had been progressing in his recovery, but was shut down last week after experiencing soreness in his arm following a simulated game.

At the time he was injured, Tanaka, 25, led the American League with 12 wins and had a 2.51 ERA. With their win Thursday night, the Yankees sit 3.5 games back of the Seattle Mariners in the race for the AL's second Wild Card spot.

Yankees hope to have Masahiro Tanaka back this month 

-Brett LoGiurato

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