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Masahiro Tanaka throws first bullpen session since being shut down with elbow injury

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Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka got back on the mound today for the first time since he was shut down in early July with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. While he still has a long way to go before returning to game action, he came out of it just fine.

According to the Associated Press, Tanaka threw a total of 25 pitches. It was all fastballs and he wasn’t throwing at full intensity, but he told Chad Jennings of the Journal News that he was happy with how things went today.

“I think we’re heading in the right direction,” Tanaka said. “So I feel really good about it.”

Tanaka said he wasn’t throwing at 100 percent effort, but he also said this felt like a better session than his first bullpen of spring training.

“I felt that I was able to throw the way that wanted to,” he said. “… I was able to get through it without any pain.”

It’s unclear when Tanaka will throw again, as the Yankees will likely see how he feels tomorrow before deciding on the next step, but he’s hoping to incorporate some offspeed pitches in his next session. The track record for pitchers rehabbing a UCL tear is not very promising, but Tanaka would likely miss all or most of next season anyway if he had Tommy John surgery tomorrow, so the Yankees will continue to take a shot in the dark and cross their fingers.

Tanaka, 25, was 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA and 135/19 K/BB ratio over 129 1/3 innings in his first season stateside prior to the injury.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.

Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery could share Cubs’ rotation spot in 2017

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 01:  Mike Montgomery #38 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 1, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon hasn’t selected a fifth starter for his 2017 rotation yet, but told reporters that he could envision left-handers Brett Anderson and Mike Montgomery sharing the spot throughout the year. Neither pitcher was stretched out to the full 200-inning threshold last year, Maddon added, and suggested that the two could alternate innings out of the rotation and bullpen as needed (via MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat).

Anderson, 29, was acquired by the Cubs in January on a $3.5 million deal. He’s coming off a rough 2016, during which he underwent back surgery and missed all but 11 1/3 innings of his last season with the Dodgers. His last full, healthy year in the majors yielded a 3.69 ERA, 2.3 BB/9 and 5.8 SO/9 over 180 1/3 innings with Los Angeles in 2015.

Montgomery, meanwhile, is vying for a rotation spot after pitching almost exclusively from the bullpen during the second half of the Cubs’ 2016 run. The 27-year-old lefty put up a 2.82 ERA, 4.7 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 38 1/3 innings for Chicago last year, returning in the postseason to post a 3.14 ERA during the Cubs’ championship finish.

Maddon also mentioned the possibility of throwing a sixth starter into the mix, which would help prevent his other starters from getting overworked too early in the year. Either way, Anderson and Montgomery are expected to get a lot of looks early in spring training as rotation spots are finalized in the weeks leading up to Opening Day.