If all goes according to plan, Masahiro Tanaka will return to the Yankees' rotation Tuesday or Wednesday vs. the Mariners.
"In a perfect world, he'll start in Seattle," Joe Girardi said Thursday before his team started a four-game series against the A's at O.co Coliseum.
Girardi said Tanaka was scheduled to join the club late Thursday night. The Yankees will evaluate him Friday and make a determination about Seattle.
"Today he felt fine," Girardi said. "We'll make sure he's OK and have a heart-to-heart with him about how he feels."
There is little reason to think Tanaka won't make a start in Seattle, where he would be on a pitch count of 80 to 85.
Tanaka, on the disabled list since April 29 with a right forearm strain and right wrist tendinitis, made his second rehab start Wednesday in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He was not sharp, throwing 62 pitches and allowing three runs, four hits and two walks with four strikeouts while struggling with a mound that needed repair work.
But Girardi said Tanaka's line isn't the focus. "The big thing for us,'' he said, "is he came out healthy."
Tanaka, 2-1 with a 3.22 ERA in four starts before getting hurt, said Wednesday what he's said throughout the rehab process: His arm feels "absolutely fine."
And, Girardi added, there's this inescapable fact: a big-league pitcher appearing in a minor-league game simply can't duplicate the adrenaline rush of the majors.
"When you send a big-league pitcher, someone who's had a ton of success in Japan and had success last year, to a Triple-A game, you don't always see the same guy that you would see at the big-league level, is the bottom line," Girardi said.
Besides, Girardi said, all the reports he heard about the outing suggested a pitcher getting healthier. The manager said Tanaka's fastball averaged 91.0 mph and that he peaked at 93.
"His fastball his last big-league start [April 23 in Detroit] was 90.9," Girardi added.
While pitchers at times aren't completely open about how they're feeling -- Chase Whitley, for example, hid pain in his right elbow for several starts before finally saying something and then undergoing Tommy John surgery -- Girardi said he has no reason to think Tanaka simply is telling the Yankees what they want to hear.
"He had no issues yesterday," Girardi said. "He said he felt good today, so you have to believe him. And I think if he wasn't throwing 93 and you saw that his slider wasn't sharp, you would think, 'OK, maybe he's not being honest with us.' But with those things, I think you have to believe him."
Girardi said going to a six-man rotation isn't an option and that a decision hasn't been made on who will come out of the rotation. Chris Capuano could be the one bumped for Tanaka's return. He'll start Friday night and would be scheduled to pitch Wednesday.
Girardi said Tanaka won't pitch Monday, when Michael Pineda is slated to start. CC Sabathia's fifth day lines up as Tuesday. Even if Sabathia gets an extra day, that would leave Tanaka for Tuesday and Sabathia for Wednesday.
"Let's just see," Girardi said of who will be left out when Tanaka is reinserted into the rotation. "There's a lot of things that can happen between now and Tuesday or Wednesday."