CLEARWATER, Fla. -- The conditions could not have been anything close to what Masahiro Tanaka envisioned for his first Spring Training start. Rain pelted the covered playing field, various items of debris fluttered through the air, and a tornado warning urged people to find cover.
Tanaka ventured out of the visiting clubhouse at Bright House Field
on Thursday morning to peek at nature in action, discovering that the
dugout was completely underwater. According to one observer, Tanaka made
a swimming gesture, and he wasn't alone in thinking that pitching would
be out of the question.
"Everybody was talking about that probably the game wasn't going to
be played," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "But I kept my emotions
intact, and I was game-ready."
After a delay of one hour and 26 minutes, the skies cleared and
Tanaka was able to turn in an interesting three-inning outing against
the Phillies. He allowed a solo Freddy Galvis home run and one other hit, recording a strikeout with no walks, but said that he did not feel at the top of his game.
Asked to explain, Tanaka replied with a smile, "Because I'm human. I just can't be perfect every single day."
Tanaka may be a harsher critic than Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who
said that he was "very pleased" by what he saw from the right-hander.
Tanaka threw 25 of 41 pitches for strikes, recording a swinging
strikeout of Chase Utley on a nasty 0-2 splitter.
"Obviously, he understands how the ball felt coming out of his hand
better than I did, and the pitches that he made, but it's a step in the
right direction," Girardi said.
Girardi said that it worked out perfectly that the storms passed and
the Yankees and Phillies were able to play; had the game been canceled,
the Yankees probably would have had Tanaka throw a soft side session and
then bounce back to pitch on Saturday.
"Today could have been [a problem] with the rain delay, because he
has a routine, and with a lot of pitchers, your routine gets messed up
with a rain delay," Girardi said. "You're not exactly sure when it's
going to start."
Tanaka said that rain delays are uncommon in Japan, where many teams
play in domed facilities, but that "it was sort of good practice for me
to experience what I experienced today," because delays will be a
reality during the regular season.
He looked sharp in an 11-pitch first inning that ended with the Utley
strikeout, and Tanaka pitched out of trouble in the second inning,
stranding Marlon Byrd after his one-out double to right-center. Of the nine outs Tanaka recorded, seven came on the ground.
"Considering how the wind was blowing today, I thought it would be
better to get more groundouts," Tanaka said. "I think that was good."
But Tanaka's control was not as pinpoint as it had been in his first
spring appearance. He fell behind Galvis to a 3-1 count in the third
inning, and Galvis punished Tanaka's four-seam fastball, clubbing it to a
concrete walkway well beyond the right-field berm for a solo homer.
"I feel that home run was a result of me not being able to get first strikes," Tanaka said.
Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira was impressed by Tanaka's outing.
"He looked great. He was using a lot of his pitches," Teixeira said.
"You saw a lot of swing-and-misses. To me, that's one of the marks of a
strikeout pitcher; when you see guys just really getting fooled on
pitches, and there were a bunch of swing-and-misses today."
Tanaka faced the Phillies in his first appearance on Saturday, but
because he entered as a reliever in the fifth inning, most of the
batters he faced then will be opening the season in the Minors. Tanaka
said that it was a treat to test his stuff against some of the hitters
that he has heard about.
"Just looking at some of the broadcasts back in Japan of the Major
League games, you get a chance to see batters like Chase Utley or Ryan Howard," Tanaka said.
Tanaka said that by actually standing on the mound and facing those
hitters, he has been able to take some early notes: for example, Howard
stands further back in the batter's box than Tanaka had expected.
Girardi said that he was not prepared to announce when Tanaka would
pitch again, but as the Yankees readied to board their buses back to the
complex across the bay, he made it clear that Tanaka had absorbed
plenty of lessons for one eventful day.
"I don't know if there's any homework," Girardi said. "We just need
to build him up, continue to build him up, and get him comfortable with
our catchers. That's the biggest thing."