Masahiro Tanaka's elbow 'fine now'

NEW YORK -- After another successful bullpen, Masahiro Tanaka declared the slight ligament tear in his throwing elbow better.

"I feel that I've gotten the health to the point where the elbow is fine now," Tanaka said.

Tanaka threw 35 pitches on Wednesday, including five splitters. Although, he described his breaking pitches as "rusty," Tanaka is feeling good enough that his next step will be throwing batting practice.

Girardi said Thursday that next step will occur before Saturday's game against the White Sox, when the he is slated to face a couple of his Yankees teammates in a live batting practice session off the mound, probably at Yankee Stadium.

Girardi did not know what time the session would take place or which hitters Tanaka would face -- or, in fact, if it would even take place at the ballpark, although that seems likely -- but the fact that Tanaka has been cleared to throw to hitters is a positive sign that he might be able to pitch in a few games sometime in September.

If all goes well, Tanaka could eventually progress to a simulated game or two, followed by a few rehab starts in the minor leagues before possibly making a few starts in the last weeks of the season. By then, the Yankees playoff fate may already be decided -- the begin Thursday's play in third place in the AL East, 9½ games behind the Baltimore Orioles and five games out, behind four other teams, for the second wild card spot -- but a Tanaka return would be more geared toward gauging his fitness for next season and the success of rehabbing a serious elbow injury without Tommy John surgery.

Girardi and Tanaka both said there is no plan for Tanaka to have another MRI to make sure the slight tear in his right elbow ligament is fine.

Since Tanaka is throwing without pain, the assumption is there are no health issues. Tanaka has been out a little more than a month.

ESPNNewYork.com Wallace Matthews contributed to this report.