TAMPA, Fla. - - The Yankees will hold their collective breath much of spring training whenever Masahiro Tanaka takes the mound.
But the righthander, who suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last season but rehabbed it and made two late September starts, said there's no need.
"I feel it's healed," Tanaka said Friday through his translator. "I'm confident that I can get through the season."
The 26-year-old wasn't able to do that last season, his first in the big leagues after signing a seven-year, $155-million deal with the Yankees.
Tanaka burst out of the gate and was 11-3 with a 2.10 ERA before allowing a combined nine runs in starts July 3 and 8. After the July 8 start against the Indians, Tanaka was sent to New York for tests and was diagnosed with the UCL tear. The pitcher, after consulting with three top orthopedic surgeons, chose rehab instead of Tommy John surgery, returned at season's end and finished 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA.
Tanaka, who threw at the club's minor league complex on Tuesday morning and threw two of his famed splitters in a bullpen session there Thursday, said he received a clean bill of health the last time his elbow was examined, in October.
"The doctor told us that there's no problem at all," Tanaka said.
The Yankees, however, will take a cautious approach with Tanaka, at least early in the spring.
While a bevy of things need to go right for them to snap a two-year drought from the playoffs, a healthy and productive year from Tanaka leads the list, or is at least close to the top.
"There's obviously concerns," Joe Girardi said, referencing the uncertainty regarding Tanaka and CC Sabathia, whose right knee is even more of a question than Tanaka's elbow. "He's [Tanaka] where he would be in a normal spring. He threw a side yesterday and he'll probably throw another one tomorrow or the next day [Tanaka said it would be Sunday]. But we've had no stipulations on what he can or can't do."
For his part, Tanaka said his offseason regimen wasn't drastically different than past ones.
"Just worked on the shoulder and elbow area more than I used to," he said.
But when it comes to how he feels physically heading into this camp compared with a year ago, "overall, body, my health, [I'm] feeling better," he said.
And, once and for all, why does he feel the elbow issue is completely behind him?
"Because," he said, "I'm able to throw the ball absolutely fine."