TAMPA, Fla. — Cross off that step for Masahiro Tanaka on the to-do list.
Though he hasn’t thrown a full bullpen session yet, the righthander, whom general manager Brian Cashman has said is slightly “behind” as the Yankees enter spring training later this week, threw off a mound for the first time Saturday.
Even more significant, when he showed up at Steinbrenner Field at just after 9 a.m. Sunday to play long toss with pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Tanaka’s right arm felt fine.
“Good,” Rothschild said Sunday in characterizing the 20-pitch mound session from the previous day. “Didn’t try to push it too much, but it was good.”
Rothschild said how hard Tanaka threw from the mound isn’t something he’s looking at, which is the case with just about every pitcher at this time of year.
“He wasn’t midseason form, but he was where he should be,” Rothschild said. “His arm worked well and it didn’t look like there were any problems. And today he felt good, which is more important.”
Tanaka’s elbow was a seasonlong source of speculation in 2015 after he suffered a small tear of his ulnar collateral ligament in 2014 that, on the advice of three of the top orthopedic surgeons in the country, was not operated on.
Tanaka had a bone spur removed from his right elbow Oct. 20, so the focus on his arm will be just as intense in spring training this year. The Yankees have said Tanaka, 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA last year, will be brought along cautiously. The expectation is that he will be ready by the start of the season, barring any setbacks.
“There’s been no hiccups,” Cashman said Friday. “The time frame should all work out.”
Rothschild said that in talking with Tanaka, who described himself as “perfectly healthy” upon reporting to the minor-league complex Friday morning, he hasn’t gotten the sense the pitcher is “relieved” about how things are going.
“No, I think with him, he kind of expects it,” said Rothschild, who plans to have Tanaka throw from the mound again Tuesday or Wednesday. “You’d have to talk to him, but it just looked like it was the routine and ‘this is what I’m going to do.’ And until he sees different, he’s going to keep progressing.”
Speaking with reporters late last week, Michael Pineda said his primary goal for 2016 is to reach 200 innings, which would be a career first.
“I think progressing from what he did last year, it’s a possibility for sure,” Rothschild said. “But to do that, you have to stay healthy just about the entire length of the season. It’s a good goal because when you have Michael’s ability, if you pitch 200 innings, the numbers will be where they should be.”
The most innings the 27-year-old Pineda, who was 12-10 with a 4.37 ERA last season, has pitched in his injury-riddled career is 171 in 2011, his rookie year with the Mariners. Pineda threw 160 2⁄3 innings in 2015.