Masahiro Tanaka is ready to take another step in his rehab. And this one will be the most significant to date.

Joe Girardi said Thursday morning that the righthander, trying to rehab a slightly torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow without having to undergo Tommy John surgery, is slated to throw to hitters Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Should that go well, the next step likely would be another live batting practice session as the Yankees are proceeding cautiously with the 25-year-old righthander.

General manager Brian Cashman said before yesterday's game the Yankees' position in the division and AL wild-card races will have no impact on Tanaka's rehab schedule. Cashman said the Yankees need to know the pitcher's physical status going into next spring, regardless of how this year plays out on the field.

Waiting game with Beltran

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Carlos Beltran received a cortisone shot in his troublesome right elbow Wednesday night. For now the disabled list isn't in the plans, though that could change. "I think you'll start to have a pretty good idea by Saturday where we're headed with this," Girardi said.

With Beltran a question mark for at least the next few days, the Yankees called up utility man Zelous Wheeler from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and sent down righthander Chase Whitley. "We felt we could use the extra bat," Girardi said of Wheeler, who went 0-for-3 as the DH Thursday.

RISPy business

The Yankees have struggled all season with runners in scoring position, ranking 10th in the AL entering Thursday with a .247 average. While Girardi hasn't been unhappy with his team's approach in those situations, he doesn't buy the notion that players' averages in those scenarios is a fluke, as some contend.

"I've never looked at it as a flukish stat," he said. "I think it's guys being able to take the same approach and relax when there's runners on and there's not runners on. I think there's a mentality that goes into that."

With David Lennon