Tanaka could make first start next week

After throwing 30-pitch bullpen session, righty says he's ready to pitch in games

Tanaka could make first start next week

TAMPA, Fla. -- Masahiro Tanaka threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Wednesday at George M. Steinbrenner Field and said that he is nearly ready to pitch in Grapefruit League games.

"Gradually, I've been able to build up pretty well thus far," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "Whenever they want me to go, I think I'm ready to go."

The Yankees have been watching each of Tanaka's workouts closely, searching for any hint of trouble related to the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament he sustained last season.

Tanaka has been able to use all of his pitches, including the splitter, at regular effort. Thus far, manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild are satisfied that Tanaka is experiencing no issues.

"We're getting closer," Girardi said. "He'll have a [simulated] game, which is similar to pitching in a game as a way to build guys up and then we'll go from there. [Tanaka's first game] will be next week some time, the end of next week."

Tanaka was 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA in 20 starts last year, his first after signing a seven-year, $155 million contract. The 26-year-old said that he does not look at his first Grapefruit League outing as a significant step.

"I'm really not thinking about that at all, at this point," Tanaka said. "I'm just more concerned with how my body is, how well I can locate and how I am pitching right now."

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.