Masahiro Tanaka throws 5 innings

TAMPA, Fla. -- New York Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka threw five scoreless innings in a simulated game against minor leaguers Monday as he continued his effort to return from a small ligament tear in in his right elbow.

His next stop?

It could be in the Bronx, starting for the Yankees this weekend.

"I do feel I'm closer to being game-ready," Tanaka said through his translator.

Tanaka said he did not think a decision on whether he will start for the Yankees this weekend would be made until Tuesday after he sees how his arm reacts and he consults with manager Joe Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

Girardi sounded as if he is ready to see Tanaka in a major league game.

"The next step, it is very possible he could be in a game for us," Girardi said. "To be fair, we have to see how he is tomorrow."

Girardi indicated the Yankees may give Tanaka an extra day of rest prior to the start, hinting that Sunday against the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium could be the date.

On a 90-plus degree Monday afternoon at Steinbrenner Field, Tanaka rehabbed with Girardi and Rothschild watching every one of his 65 pitches. The Yankees face the Rays in St. Petersburg on Monday night.

At times, the unknown minor leaguers seemed to have a beat on many of Tanaka's pitches, amassing six hits, including two doubles. Tanaka, who had four strikeouts, said his fastball maxed at 92 mph.

"As far as my performance goes, I think it is gradually getting better," Tanaka said. "It is not really a regular-season game atmosphere. It is little bit hard for me to get up to there."

Tanaka had only one 1-2-3 inning, the final the one.

"The last inning he was dialed up and we saw him throw the way he has this year," Rothschild said.

Tanaka began the season 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA in his initial 14 starts. In his next four, he lost three times and had a 4.35 ERA before landing on the DL with elbow pain.

Tanaka has missed more than two months, watching from the sideline as the Yankees faded in the standings. Originally, on the advice of four top elbow specialists, the Yankees hoped Tanaka would miss six weeks and help the playoff push.

The doctors declined to recommend Tommy John surgery at the time, believing that rehab could heal the problem since Tanaka's ligament tear was small.

Even with their playoff hopes dimming, the Yankees would like Tanaka to pitch again to help clear up his future.

If Tanaka does need the operation, he will be out at least a full year. If that is the case, the Yankees would prefer that Tanaka be completely clear of his rehab going into 2016.

Though both Tanaka and the Yankees are aggressively trying to have him pitch in a big league game, they won't be limited by the regular-season schedule, which ends Sept. 28.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said last week that Tanaka could pitch more in Tampa if the club and the ace still have unanswered questions.