TAMPA, Fla. -- A crowd of about a dozen coaches and other observers clustered behind a chain-link fence on Thursday morning, watching closely as Masahiro Tanaka aired out his right arm. It's a scene that will likely be repeated many times this spring.
The 26-year-old threw 21 pitches from a bullpen mound, all fastballs, during a session that lasted about seven minutes at the Yanks' Minor League complex. Tanaka declined to speak to reporters after the session, waving to fans as he was driven from the facility.
Tanaka's health will be one of the most prominent storylines of the Yankees' Grapefruit League campaign. On the advice of four doctors, he rehabbed a partially torn right ulnar collateral ligament last season and returned to make two September starts, going home to Japan during the offseason as a healthy player in the organization's eyes.
Tanaka was able to follow a normal offseason conditioning program, and the Yankees do not expect there to be any limitations on his workload in Spring Training. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said this week that Tanaka will likely be able to follow a similar program to the one that he was given last spring.
"We'll bring him along as his arm will dictate," Rothschild said. "I'm not going to push it, and we didn't last year, so it shouldn't be too much different. If I compare the schedules at the end of spring, I'm not sure what it's going to look like. We're not going to do too much stuff. We'll be aware of the situation. I'll see where he is as we do sides and everything, before we progress into a regular schedule."
Tanaka is expected to address the media on Friday, when Yankees pitchers and catchers officially report to camp. He went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 big league starts last season, leading the Yankees in victories and complete games (three), while ranking second in starts, innings (136 1/3) and strikeouts (141).
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.