Tanaka plays catch without issue as progress continues

Tanaka plays catch without issue as progress continues

ST. PETERSBURG -- Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka played catch on Sunday at Tropicana Field and reported no issues, one day after throwing 25 fastballs off a bullpen mound.

"Real encouraged," manager Joe Girardi said of Tanaka, on the DL since July 9 with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.

"That was the first thing I asked; 'How does he feel today?' The fact he went out and played his long toss tells me he feels good. And we'll continue to go forward."

Girardi said that Tanaka is scheduled to throw another bullpen next week, and will be allowed to spin some curveballs in that session. The Yankees are targeting a September return to the big league mound for the 25-year-old rookie.

"He's had no twinges or anything," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "You stay optimistic until you know otherwise. We'll just keep progressing the program as it's set up and just go from there."

Rothschild compared the intensity of Saturday's session to the first day of Spring Training, and said that he was watching Tanaka's facial expressions to see if he was trying to hide any discomfort. Tanaka's mechanics in the bullpen looked smooth, he said.

"It is what it is. You just take it a step at a time and progress with it," Rothschild said. "Would I rather have him had three, four or five starts right now? Yeah. These things crop up; as we've seen this year in baseball too often. You're just not going to know until he gets through it all and he's in games. Even then, you have to keep an eye on it."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.