Masahiro Tanaka: Elbow feels good

TAMPA BAY, Fla. -- Not only does Masahiro Tanaka say his slightly torn ligament in his right elbow is better, he says he feels as good as ever.

"I actually feel a little bit better than last year," Tanaka said Friday, a day after his first bullpen session of the spring. "My overall body and health is better."

After pitching like a Cy Young candidate in his rookie season for the New York Yankees, Tanaka missed 2½ months rehabbing the ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. In 20 starts, Tanaka finished the season 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA and gained a familiarity with the American game.

"I know what to expect, the rhythm and the flow of things here now after a full season last year," Tanaka, 26, said.

The Yankees may try to ease Tanaka's workload during the year by going to a six-man rotation when they are short on off days during long stretches. Besides Tanaka -- who transitioned last season from six days off between starts in Japan to four with the Yankees -- Joe Girardi wants to protect CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda. Sabathia is coming off of knee surgery, while Nova hopes to return in June from Tommy John surgery. Pineda has had trouble completing a full season.

Tanaka said he has already thrown a couple of cutters in camp and has no plans to tamp down his use of the pitch, which many associate with elbow problems.

"I'm able to throw the ball absolutely fine," Tanaka said.

The Yankees spent $175 million to acquire Tanaka last year. They signed him to a seven-year, $155 million contract and paid a $20 million posting fee to his Japanese team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles.