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Tanaka progressing, throws 45 pitches in sim game

NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka is moving closer to game action. On the disabled list since July, the right-hander threw 45 pitches over three simulated innings on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium and said that he continues to feel improvement with his pitching elbow.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that after Tanaka's next bullpen session, the team plans to set up another game for him, simulated or in the instructional league. If Tanaka passes those checkpoints healthy, he could be activated from the 60-day disabled list for a big league start.

Girardi said that it is the Yankees' intention to have Tanaka make at least one start before the season ends. Tanaka is hoping to avoid Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament.

"I think he wants to feel that he can go home and have a normal offseason and he can be healthy and come back," Girardi said. "I do believe it's important to him."

The simulated game, in which Tanaka was caught by John Ryan Murphy, was Tanaka's first since he threw 49 pitches on Aug. 28 at Detroit's Comerica Park. Tanaka experienced what was termed to be "general arm soreness" after that outing, delaying his rehab.

"Definitely, I was throwing stronger, harder than in Detroit," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "[I was] a bit concerned just because of what happened in Detroit, but when I was throwing, it was completely different -- a different feel than what I was feeling in Detroit vs. today, so I think I'll be OK tomorrow."

Tanaka said that he felt as though he could pitch in a game, but would want to build up his stamina to throw more pitches before that point. The Yanks have said they'd like Tanaka to be in the neighborhood of 90 pitches before being activated, but expanded September rosters could make that less of a necessity.

"I thought he was better than Detroit," Girardi said. "I thought his stuff was sharper, I thought there was more velocity, I thought there was better command."

Tanaka pitched to four Yankees hitters -- Chris Young, Antoan Richardson, Austin Romine and Zelous Wheeler. Young, who got one of the Mets' four hits in Tanaka's first career shutout on May 14, said that he'd have no issue playing behind Tanaka right now.

"I'm not really sure how the [velocity] is supposed to look or anything like that, but I know his split-finger was just as good as ever," Young said. "His breaking ball was just as good as I've ever seen it.

"I had the opportunity to face him earlier this year, so I knew what I was getting myself into standing in the box. He looked amazing, didn't give up a hit, and we're all out there trying. We're not just standing in there, we're trying to have competitive at-bats."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.
Read More: New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka