LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - It was just Tuesday that Joe Girardi said Jacoby Ellsbury had a "mild, mild, mild, mild'' abdominal strain and would miss a few days.

Even Wednesday morning, Girardi said he was hoping to get back Ellsbury by Friday.

But a team spokesman announced minutes before Masahiro Tanaka's impressive start against the Braves Wednesday night that Ellsbury will be shut down for a week with what is now being called a strained oblique muscle.

"I'm not really bothered by it,'' Giradi said. "There will be plenty of time, I think.''

So it's the old bad news/good news story. Tanaka, who is working his way back from an elbow injury, allowed one hit and struck out three in 32/3 scoreless innings in his second outing in the Yankees' 12-5 win over the Braves.

"I'm pleased with the way he's throwing,'' Girardi said. "Since Day One of spring training, we've liked what we've seen. He appears to be healthy and he's throwing the ball well. Keep running him out there.''

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Last Friday, Tanaka tossed two perfect innings against Atlanta. With each start, the Yankees move closer to the belief that Tanaka can start on Opening Day and stay healthy all year.

"I try not to put too much expectations on myself,'' Tanaka said through his translator. "I just try to go out there and be the best that I can.''

Whether Ellsbury will be able to go out there for the April 6 opener is now a fair question. He had the MRI Wednesday after Girardi said the team doctor told him one was not "deemed necessary'' on Tuesday.

Girardi also called the injury a quadriceps strain before correcting himself and reporting it as an abdominal strain. The dreaded word "oblique'' was first mentioned yesterday. Oblique strains can be notoriously slow to heal. Ellsbury has not spoken with the media since the injury was revealed.

Ellsbury started on Opening Day last year after missing the last two weeks of major-league spring training with a calf strain. Ellsbury got at-bats in minor-league games last year, a method the Yankees may have to employ again when he is ready.

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If Ellsbury is unavailable, the Yankees can shift Brett Gardner to center and use Chris Young or Garrett Jones in left. Spring sensation Jose Pirela, who seems squeezed out of a roster spot if everyone is healthy, started in left and went 0-for-3 to drop to .391.

While they downgraded Ellsbury's status, the Yankees have gotten positive injury rehab feedback in the past two days from Tanaka and CC Sabathia, who made his spring debut Tuesday.

The battle for the rotation's No. 5 spot vacated temporarily by injured Chris Capuano will begin in earnest in Tampa tonight when Esmil Rogers faces the Phillies. "Competition's on now, in a sense,'' Girardi said. "These guys need to start . . . they're competing for jobs.''

Adam Warren, so valuable out of the bullpen last year, will start against the Tigers Friday, and Bryan Mitchell will get a look next week.