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Masahiro Tanaka tentatively scheduled to start Sunday for Yankees

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, right, talks to

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, right, talks to starting pitcher Hiroki Kuroda during the first inning of a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014, in St. Petersburg, Fla. Credit: AP / Chris O'Meara

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - It cannot yet be said Masahiro Tanaka will be able to avoid Tommy John surgery, but the Yankees hope he takes a big step toward that end Sunday.

Joe Girardi announced before Tuesday night's game that Tanaka, on the DL since July 9 with a slight tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, is tentatively slated to start Sunday against the Blue Jays at the Stadium.

"I think that's what we've all been waiting to get back to," Girardi said. "We'll see how he holds up."

Tanaka, who pitched against instructional league players in a five-inning simulated game Monday, will be on a pitch count of 70-75 Sunday. Shortly after Tanaka suffered the tear, three top orthopedic surgeons, including James Andrews, said the tear was slight enough that it might heal with proper rest and rehab. Tanaka and the Yankees hope one or two starts before the end of the regular season will be enough to tell them if surgery, which would cost the pitcher all of next season, can be avoided.

"Even if it's short, if I'm able to go out there and have a strong outing [or two], it will give me some good confidence," Tanaka said.

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