DETROIT -- Masahiro Tanaka's next hurdle will come in the form of three simulated innings off the mound at Comerica Park on Thursday morning, and if he gets through that session with no issues, the right-hander's return will seem much more plausible.
Manager Joe Girardi said that Tanaka is scheduled to throw about 45 pitches in the simulated game, and he could be two sessions away from a big league return; the team would need Tanaka to build his stamina to the area of 75-90 pitches before deeming him ready.
"You obviously feel better that it's going to happen, but I still talk about the intensity of a Major League game compared to a Minor League game or a simulated game," Girardi said. "Those are the hurdles that you have to go through."
It is likely that the Yankees would need to create Tanaka's next outing, as the Minor League schedule ends on Monday and only Class A Advanced Tampa is within striking distance of seeing playoff action. Girardi said that he is remaining cautiously optimistic as Tanaka aims to avoid Tommy John surgery.
"As long as you're having steps in the right direction, it's working," Girardi said. "That doesn't mean that it's a guarantee. If you have a setback, it probably means surgery. It's not like rehabbing a hamstring or something like that, where you can have a setback and, 'OK, we've got to sit him down.' If it doesn't work, it doesn't work."
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.