Masahiro Tanaka throws full bullpen, and Yankees hope he can start early next week

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NEW YORK — Masahiro Tanaka threw 31 pitches in a bullpen session Friday, and the New York Yankees right-hander said he thinks he can return to the rotation this season despite a strained right hamstring.

Speaking through a translator, Tanaka said he was able to throw all his pitches with force and his hamstring is getting better each day — though he has not attempted any fielding drills yet.

Tanaka and manager Joe Girardi both said they must wait to see how the pitcher feels Saturday before determining when he might start again. Girardi said he would like to slot in Tanaka against Boston early next week.

Tanaka said he still feels discomfort in his leg, but "it's definitely moving in the right direction."

New York scratched Tanaka from his scheduled start Wednesday in Toronto. He got hurt running to first base after bunting last Friday in an interleague game against the Mets at Citi Field.

He pitched pretty well for another five innings, but an MRI the following day revealed a Grade 1 strain, the least severe.

The Yankees went into Friday night's game against the Chicago White Sox trailing first-place Toronto by three games in the AL East. New York has a firm grip on the league's top wild-card spot.

If healthy, Tanaka would seem the likely choice to start a win-or-go-home wild-card game Oct. 6. He is 12-7 with a 3.38 ERA in his second major league season after coming over from Japan.

"We have not clinched anything," Girardi said. "I think it's premature to set things up right now. Let's not get ahead of ourselves."

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