Ivan Nova, Chris Capuano closer to returning to rotation

St. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The New York Yankees pitching staff, which leads the MLB in strikeouts with 294 and has a combined ERA of 3.29, may be a month or so from getting a fairly extensive makeover.

Tuesday morning, Ivan Nova's recovery from Tommy John surgery last April took another step forward when he threw three innings in an extended spring game at the Yankees minor-league complex. Nova threw 33 pitches, allowed two hits, made an error, got "a lot of ground balls,'' according to Joe Girardi, and left the game with one out and the bases loaded. Girardi said Nova's fastball hit 95 mph. Assuming a normal progression, Nova is still probably a month away from returning to action.

Chris Capuano, on the other hand, who started the season on the DL with a quad strain, was scheduled to throw six innings or 85 pitches in a game for Triple-A Scranton Tuesday night, a workload that would put him theoretically just a start or two from being reinstated to the rotation.

"He should be, depending on functionality," pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "He's got to be ready to get people out here and have command of the pitches that you need to get by here.''

And of course, Masahiro Tanaka, who threw 30 pitches in his first bullpen session since going on the disabled list April 29 with a forearm strain, is expected back in early June, barring setbacks.

Obviously, it means that within the month, Girardi and Rothschild are going to have to make some decisions that could shake up a pitching staff that has performed beyond expectations so far this season.

"I don't think you really worry too much about it until you have to make a decision about what you're going to do because other things can creep up," Girardi said. "Sometimes you can waste a lot of energy doing that."

Tanaka, however, said he is aware of how well the rest of the staff is doing in his absence.

"The starters and also even the guys in the bullpen also, I think they're doing a fabulous job," Tanaka said through his interpreter. "What I want to do is get back in there as soon as I can and contribute for the team."