MOOSIC, Pa. - The RailRiders logo was a departure from the familiar NY. Otherwise, from a pitching standpoint, Masahiro Tanaka didn't look all that different Thursday night in his first rehab start for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
Tanaka, who has been on the disabled list since April 27 because of wrist tendinitis and a mild forearm strain, reported no problems after allowing two hits in three scoreless innings against Durham at PNC Field. On a 45-pitch limit, Tanaka needed only 41 -- throwing 25 for strikes -- as he flipped through his full arsenal.
Asked if he had any discomfort, Tanaka replied through his interpreter, "No, not at all."
That was the biggest hurdle, and the Yankees' greatest fear since Tanaka complained of the forearm/wrist issues after his April 23 start against the Tigers at Comerica Park. He was great that day -- despite a first-pitch temperature of 33 degrees -- in giving up three hits and striking out six in 61/3 innings.
When an MRI revealed no connection to Tanaka's previous partial UCL tear, the Yankees were able to move ahead with the rehab process, and this was his first game action since that frosty afternoon in Detroit.
Tanaka worked quickly and efficiently, showing no signs of any lingering problems with two strikeouts and zero walks.
The two strikeouts came back-to-back in the second inning. Tanaka whiffed Bulls catcher Curt Casali with a diving 87-mph splitter and fanned third baseman Leonardo Reginatto with an 83-mph slider.
Overall, Tanaka's fastball ranged between 89 and 92 mph. According to Pitch F/X, he had averaged 90.6 mph with a max of 93.4 this season.
"I was looking to pitch all my pitches with force," Tanaka said, "and I think I was able to do that tonight."
Tanaka is expected to require possibly two more rehab starts, bumping up his pitch counts to 60 and 75 before returning to the Yankees, who could promote him when he's ready to go 90.
Tanaka would be scheduled to start again Tuesday, but both of the nearest minor-league affiliates will be on the road that day, with Scranton at the closest stadium in Pawtucket, Rhode Island.
"Can't really say for now," Tanaka said. "I'll have to look and see how I feel [Friday]. Obviously, we'll get to see our trainers back in New York. Talk with the manager and coaches and sort of discuss what the next step would be."
Tanaka surrendered his first hit on the third pitch of the game, a 91-mph fastball that the Bulls' Jake Elmore smacked to the rightfield wall. The only other hit was Taylor Motter's two-out single in the third, coming on an 85-mph slider.
This was a significant step up from his two bullpen sessions, involving a deliberate plan of attack with catcher Austin Romine.
"I felt pretty confident about all the pitches," Tanaka said. "As far as going back into the game, I think I was able to go back in there pretty smoothly."
Before his stint on the disabled list, Tanaka appeared to be finding his stride, if not his dominant form of 2014. He was 2-1 with a 3.22 ERA and had 24 strikeouts in 221/3 innings. The Yankees were thrilled when he stifled a stacked Tigers lineup, but he needed an MRI soon after and was scratched from his next start.
A day before Tanaka's first rehab start, Hal Steinbrenner said he was "nervous," and understandably so.
There's still a ways to go, but passing this first test has to be a huge relief for the Yankees, whose playoff hopes may hinge on having him back at the front of their rotation.