Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka nears 1st batting practice session



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TAMPA, Florida — New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka threw 40 pitches in his third bullpen session Thursday and could be ready to throw batting practice early next week.

Tanaka missed 2 1/2 months last season while rehabilitating a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He returned for two starts in late September, and Boston chased him with an eight-run second inning in his final outing.

"I was throwing with more force than the last bullpen," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "As far as hitting the spots as location goes, I think it was better than the last bullpen as well. I feel that I'm on track. It gives me confidence that I'm moving in the right direction."

The Yankees are considering whether to give rotation pitchers an extra day between starts occasionally by using a sixth starter, an idea Tanaka thinks is good.

"You get that extra day to recover, and that's definitely a plus for me," he said.

The Yankees expect Tanaka will be ready for opening day.

"If things progress like they are, absolutely," New York pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "You could see he dialed it up today."

Signed to a $155 million, seven-year contract in January 2014, Tanaka went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA over 20 starts.

NOTES: Spring training instructor Hideki Matsui arrived at camp. ... Former two-sport standout Drew Henson will be a Yankees' pro scout this season after serving as a hitting coach for the Gulf Coast League Yankees.

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