TAMPA, Fla. — Brian Cashman said Thursday night that the Yankees will be taking the cautious route with Masahiro Tanaka in spring training.
After a Friday morning workout in which he played long toss at the club’s minor-league complex, Tanaka sounded very much on the same page.
Asked if he expects to be ready by Opening Day, Tanaka, through his translator, said: “Can’t really say. We’ll take it day by day. I feel that I can’t really talk about that at this point. I just want to see myself go into the bullpen, get the innings in and see how I feel.”
To be clear, Tanaka, who had two stints on the disabled list last year and had a bone spur removed shortly after the season ended, said he is “perfectly healthy.”
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said his expectation is that, barring any setbacks or “bumps in the road,” Tanaka will be ready to take his first turn in the rotation come April.
Cashman, speaking by phone Friday afternoon, indicated that Tanaka’s answer had more to do with common sense than any lingering physical issues.
“There’s been no hiccups. The time frame should all work out,” he said. “But since he hasn’t gotten in a bullpen and gone full-bore with all his pitches, I don’t want to speak for him, but I don’t think he wants to advance it and declare, ‘Yes, I’ll definitely be ready.’ There’s always that unknown . . . He had a routine bone spur and the time frame should permit him to be ready without any setbacks, and so far that’s been the case. We’ll see.”
Tanaka, who went 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA last season, has not thrown off a mound, but that’s something that could occur in the coming days. It is all part of the program the Yankees put him on after the Oct. 20 surgery to remove the spur.
“In talking to him today and watching him, I think he’s in a pretty good place for this early,” Rothschild said. “Is he ahead? No, but did we expect him to be? Absolutely not.
“The biggest thing is that he went through his throwing program [during the offseason] and everything and had no problems. He’ll get to where he needs to as time progresses. We’re not going to try and bite too much off with him early on. We’ll just progress him at a good pace and not try to push it at all. He seems like he could probably push it a little bit, but there’s no reason to.”
Tanaka said he can’t say if the bone spur he pitched with much of the year impacted his performance, which included some good and some bad, including 25 homers allowed in 154 innings (he allowed 15 in 136 1⁄3 innings in 2014).
“Can’t say for sure,” said Tanaka, 27. “Possibly. But I think it was more about the overall mechanics of how I was throwing last year, so I’ll be working more on that this year.”
Tanaka, who missed about six weeks because of a right forearm strain and right wrist tendinitis and then suffered a right hamstring strain in late September, said being able to make only 24 starts and pitch only 154 innings made 2015 a disappointing season.
“It was frustrating,” said Tanaka, who was outpitched by Dallas Keuchel in the Yankees’ wild-card loss to the Astros. “Missed time, obviously, because of having to go on the disabled list, didn’t feel like I pitched enough games. Obviously, not pitching enough innings, so in that sense it was a frustrating year.”
As for the slight tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament suffered in 2014 — which was never operated on but was a constant source of speculation last year and likely will be again this season — Tanaka said it continues to be a non-issue.
“I don’t even think about it,” he said.