Tanaka planning mound work on Saturday

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The New York Yankees’ best player this season, the one who could have most effectively stopped the team’s maddening losing streaks that always seem to follow sudden bursts of wins, will get his first real test Saturday.

Masahiro Tanaka is scheduled to throw off a pitcher’s mound, something he hasn’t done since July 8, when he felt pain in his right elbow that was diagnosed as a small tear of his ulnar collateral ligament.

Tanaka went through more drills Friday at Tropicana Field. He played catch in the outfield, eventually reaching the long-toss distance of 120 feet. He also threw seven pitches from a flat surface using his normal windup. He then did some pitcher’s fielding drills, while also working on pickoff moves to first and second base.

Everything felt fine, Tanaka confirmed afterward. “No pain,” he said through an interpreter.

The next test comes Saturday, when Tanaka will throw what Joe Girardi said will be 25 fastballs off a pitcher’s mound. Even Tanaka acknowledged how important tomorrow’s step is.

“If I can't throw the way I want on the mound or in the bullpen, I won't be able to throw that way in a game,” the pitcher said.

Tanaka and the Yankees are hoping to avoid the dreaded Tommy John surgery, which would not only wipe out the remainder of this season, but likely all of 2015 as well.

Girardi, as is his style, spoke optimistically of Tanaka’s progress. But he also couched his comments with caution.

“It’s still early to tell,” he said. “But we’re getting through each step, so hopefully tomorrow goes well and we can get to the next step.”

If Tanaka passes tomorrow’s test, the Yankees hope he can keep progressing to where he can make a minor league rehab start, which Girardi noted will be a big step.

“I’ve said all along that I think you need to see him in competition,” the manager said. “That’s when the intensity gets turned up. It’s not controlled. You can somewhat control bullpen. You can somewhat control a live batting practice. But once you get in a game, it’s a little bit harder.”

Can McCann?: Tanaka’s battery mate, catcher Brian McCann, had further tests Friday and might be available to play Saturday. For the first time since suffering a concussion from a foul tip last Friday, McCann went through team drills and took batting practice. He said he stopped feeling the aftereffects of the concussion “about two, three” days after it occurred, and has felt well since then. His return to the roster now depends on how he did with an impact test he underwent Friday. While he hopes to be activated, McCann said “I can’t answer that right now. Today was first day I’ve gotten on a baseball field and did some catching drills. I’m not sure what the plan is right now.”