TAMPA, Fla. -- When Masahiro Tanaka tried on his Yankees pinstripes earlier this month, he said that there was no particular team or player that he was looking forward to facing. They'd all be new, and so each assignment would be a terrific challenge.
Tanaka is preparing for the first of those tests. The right-hander is
scheduled to make his highly anticipated spring debut on Saturday
against the Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field (1:05 p.m. ET, live
on MLB.TV), entering in relief to begin the fifth inning.
"I understand there's going to be a lot of attention on the results,
the numbers of what I do out there," Tanaka said through an interpreter.
"But for me, I'm not looking at it at all. I just want to go out there
and pitch my style out there and see how it is on the mound."
Other than the preparations for Derek Jeter's
final season, Tanaka's arrival has easily been the biggest storyline of
camp. A sizable contingent of reporters from Japan has been assigned to
track Tanaka's every movement, beaming reports of his progress across
The 25-year-old Tanaka has been a major star in Japan since his high
school career, and perhaps that is one large reason that he has seemed
to be unfazed by the attention that comes with signing a seven-year,
$155 million contract with the Yankees.
"At this point, I can't really think of anything that I'm having some difficulty to adjusting to," Tanaka said.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi hopes that continues to be the case on Saturday. Tanaka will wait on the sidelines as CC Sabathia makes the start against Philadelphia, and then will begin preparing while Hiroki Kuroda enters as a third-inning reliever.
"Hopefully, [Tanaka] keeps his emotions in check, and that's what you
worry about a little bit, trying to do too much," Girardi said.
"Players a lot of times want to validate contracts. I always say, [with]
Japanese-born players, I think there's a certain amount of pride. They
feel they're pitching for their whole country sometimes, and that can be
a bit much."
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild set up the club's rotation schedule,
lumping Sabathia, Kuroda and Tanaka for the first game before separating
them later this spring -- sometimes with days off, and sometimes by
having them work in simulated or Minor League games.
Girardi said that Rothschild's decision had nothing to do with
lowering expectations for Tanaka, or allowing him to fly under the radar
for his first time out.
"No, no, no -- he's not flying under anything," Girardi said. "The
idea behind this, for Larry, is to be able to work in some extra days
off in Spring Training, getting him on his five-day schedule. And we
weren't going to ask CC to come out of the 'pen."
While Girardi has not yet locked in his rotation for the regular
season, he revealed on Friday that it is "pretty safe to say" that
Tanaka's first start is lining up for the third or fourth game of the
year -- either April 3 in Houston or April 4 in Toronto.
"I want to see how it goes," Girardi said. "I think it's just fair to
see how he's doing physically at the end of this, because that's one of
the biggest adjustments he has to make."
From what the Yankees have already seen from Tanaka's work in the
bullpen and live batting-practice sessions, the early reports of a
special repertoire have appeared to be accurate.
Earlier in camp, Yankees catcher Austin Romine
grabbed a bat against Tanaka and was wowed by the hurler's splitter,
which some scouts have rated as one of the best in the world.
When the pitch hurtled in like a fastball and then dropped off the
table in front of home plate, Romine said that he turned around to
catcher Brian McCann, asking what he had just seen.
"He's got a great split," McCann said. "It really falls off the
table. His motion's completely the same as his fastball, and that's the
key to getting swings and misses."
Tanaka throws two fastballs -- a two-seamer and a four-seamer -- as
well as a slider, curveball, changeup and cutter. He plans to show most
of them off on Saturday, but said that he is looking forward to seeing
what other professional hitters think of his splitter.
"I feel that it is important to get some swing and misses from that
pitch, but going into tomorrow I just want to see how batters react to
that pitch," he said.
Off the field, Tanaka has also seemed to slide into his new
surroundings well. He and Kuroda have been speaking with some
regularity, and Kuroda has seemed to be impressed by Tanaka's poise.
"What I've learned as a person, for his age, he's a really mature
guy," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "He's really calm. He's a
Even with a language barrier -- he worked on learning English in
Japan, but uses a translator to communicate with the American media --
Tanaka has flashed signs of an engaging personality, and his teammates
seem to have embraced him.
"I wasn't really surprised, because I knew pretty much what I was
getting into," Tanaka said. "I had some of the information coming in
here, so I wasn't very surprised by anything. But there might be some
going into games from here on."