TAMPA, Fla. - Masahiro Tanaka didn't exactly give a ringing endorsement of the possibility of rejoining the Yankees' rotation by week's end.
"I don't know, it's hard to say," Tanaka said through his translator after throwing a five-inning simulated game Monday afternoon at Steinbrenner Field.
But Joe Girardi said the lukewarm nature of Tanaka's answer probably had more to do with the circumstances of the outing than the outing itself, something the righthander seemed to acknowledge.
Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild said that if Tanaka comes in Tuesday feeling good, it's very possible he will pitch Saturday against the Blue Jays at the Stadium.
"I've said all along, we're going to have to get to the point where he's in a real game and there's normal preparation and there's people in the stands and his adrenaline's flowing," Girardi said. "I was pleased with the way the ball was coming out of his hand today."
Tanaka, trying to rehab a slight ulnar collateral tear without Tommy John surgery that would knock him out for all of next season, threw 65 pitches to Yankees instructional league players, doing so in front of a crowd of about 50 Japanese and American media.
"As far as my performance goes, I think it's gradually getting better," said Tanaka, whose fastball peaked at 92 mph, which was about average for him before the injury. "It's not really a regular-season- game atmosphere, so it's a little bit hard for me to get myself up to that, but I did feel good."
He did not allow a run and threw plenty of pitches that had hitters flailing, but he did allow six hits and numerous hard-hit balls that were turned into outs. Again, however, Girardi said results in a simulated game aren't important to him.
"It's a simulated game, and as much as you want to simulate that feeling that you get inside as a player, it's not the same," Girardi said. "It's not the same as the season, it just isn't. I don't get too caught up in the results. I get caught up in the velocity and how he feels and how the ball's coming out."
Rothschild said Tanaka's final inning Monday, a nine-pitch frame in which he struck out one and retired the side in order, looked like one from before he injured his elbow.
"The last inning, he was dialed up and threw the ball the way that you've seen him throw it this year," Rothschild said. "The force behind the ball, the quickness of the delivery and the animation in the delivery was all similar."