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Masahiro Tanaka returns to Yankees rotation Wednesday in Seattle

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees high-fives

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees high-fives teammates in the dugout before their game against the Oakland Athletics at Coliseum on May 29, 2015 in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Getty Images / Ezra Shaw

SEATTLE - Masahiro Tanaka has no idea. Neither does Joe Girardi, or anyone else for that matter.

Masahiro Tanaka makes his return to the Yankees from the disabled list Wednesday afternoon against the Mariners at Safeco Field, and the primary question accompanying the righthander will be some form of this one:

Will this be an outing that jump-starts a stretch that allows him to finish the season without landing back on the DL, or is it simply delaying the inevitable setback?

"Health is just too hard to predict," Girardi said before Tuesday night's game. "I think with all your starters, you're more apt to keep your fingers crossed [that] they stay healthy than expect it."

Fingers will be extra crossed, if there's such a thing, with the 26-year-old Tanaka, not only Wednesday but every start he makes beyond that.

And, really, that has been the case each time he's pitched since late last September when Tanaka returned to the rotation after missing 21/2 months with a slight tear in his right ulnar collateral ligament.

Tanaka, on the DL since April 29 with a right forearm strain and right wrist tendinitis, has been far from bad -- he's 2-1 with a 3.22 ERA in four starts -- but he has not been the same dominant pitcher he was before the 2014 injury.

When he went on the DL last season -- three of the top orthopedic surgeons recommended he rehab rather than have Tommy John surgery -- Tanaka was 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA, including 11-1, 1.99 after his first 14 starts.

He returned to make two September starts, allowing a combined six runs in seven innings, and showed up in spring training with a clean bill of health but with marginally diminished fastball velocity.

Although he and the Yankees have maintained that was by design -- throwing more two-seam fastballs (sinkers) than four-seam fastballs -- opposing hitters, particularly the Blue Jays after beating Tanaka in the season opener, openly discussed the pitcher being a far more "comfortable" at-bat this season compared with last.

"Obviously you want to dominate in a game, pitching on that mound," Tanaka said Tuesday through his translator. "But there's always going to be ups and downs if you look year by year. The important thing is to try and find what's working for you best in that year and make the most out of it."

Of his health, a question since February that will continue to persist, Tanaka said: "When the season started, I didn't have any issues. I think I was healthy, and right now I feel healthy, as well."

In his final rehab start last Wednesday for Triple-A Scranton / Wilkes-Barre, Tanaka was not especially sharp, throwing 62 pitches and allowing three runs, four hits and two walks with four strikeouts. The righthander chalked the command problems up to "mechanical" issues, ones he's corrected since that start.

"But from that day, I was able to work on that, so I'm pretty happy with where I'm at right now," Tanaka said.

He will be on a pitch count of 80-85 Wednesday and, while watched closely by Girardi, who said "I know there's always going to be questions about his elbow because of what he went through," the manager said expectations for Tanaka have not changed from what they were before last year's injury.

"We see the stuff, we see it there," Girardi said. "It comes down to making your pitches, so we still expect a lot from him."


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