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Masahiro Tanaka faces live hitters again and calls it a big step forward

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees throws

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees throws on the field during summer camp at Yankee Stadium on Monday, July 13, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Sure, Masahiro Tanaka thought about the unfortunate events of July 4 when he returned to the mound against live hitters for the first time on Tuesday.

But only briefly.

“It actually kind of crossed my mind for the very first pitch,” he said through his interpreter after his workout at Yankee Stadium. “But after I threw that, it was back to business, back to normal.”

That is good news for the Yankees. Tanaka is a key to their rotation, and it appears he is on track to join the regular-season effort on or about July 31.

That is a logical target if he ramps up from 20 pitches on Tuesday to 35 to 40 on Sunday, as he plans to do, and suffers no setbacks.

“I think that kind of all depends on how I do in the next live BP,” he said. “If everything comes out OK, I should be ready to go.”

Manager Aaron Boone said he was impressed with the life on Tanaka’s fastball and said he was “encouraged by what I saw.”

Boone said Tanaka likely will get in those 35 or 40 pitches in Scranton while the Yankees are facing the Nationals in Washington, where on Sunday they probably will turn what would have been his start into a bullpen game.

If all goes well, he could pitch against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium a week from Friday.

Tanaka opted not to use an “L” screen to protect himself Tuesday despite what happened in that July 4 session, when he took a 112-mph line drive from Giancarlo Stanton off the right side of his head.

“No, having a screen on and pitching was basically not an option for me,” he said. “You obviously never have that in a game, so no, the plan was not to have it in the first place.”

Tanaka suffered a concussion when Stanton's drive hit him, but from Day One, he impressed the Yankees with his ability to bounce back quickly from the incident, both physically and psychologically.

He threw 30 pitches in a bullpen session last Thursday, but he said Tuesday’s workout was a milestone on his road back.

“Being back on the mound and being able to pitch, obviously without a doubt, it was a big step forward for me,” he said. “Obviously, it tells that I’m progressing in the right direction.

“As far as what comes next, it was only my first time pitching against hitters, so I’ll speak with Boonie and [pitching coach Matt] Blake and see how we want to move forward. But obviously, that comes with seeing where I’m at tomorrow.”

The Yankees sometimes have tried to give Tanaka an extra day off between starts in the past, but with the shortened season, might he be more likely to pitch every fifth day, as most top-line major-league starters do?

“I don’t really think of it like that,” he said. “Obviously, I have not thought about it going into this season. I think the schedule itself kind of dictates whether I get an extra day or whether I’m going on regular rest.

“But as far as for myself, I don’t even have that type of mentality. I’ll just pitch when I need to pitch.”

New York Sports