The New York Yankees showed off their latest high-priced weapon on Saturday, as Masahiro Tanaka made his major league debut in Tampa, FL. The 25-year old from Japan pitched two shutout innings in a spring-training game against the Philadelphia Phillies, which the Yankees eventually won 4-0.
Pitching in the fifth and sixth innings in front of a capacity crowd of over 10,000 at the Yankees spring training complex, Tanaka threw 21 strikes in 32 pitches, allowing just two singles to Philly batters. The game was televised live on the YES and MLB Networks, as well as several networks in Japan, where the game began at 3:00 in the morning. Asked if he thought friends and family got to see him pitch, Tanaka got laughs when he said no, he thought they “were all sleeping.”
The strong performance was good news for the Yankees, who have invested a lot of money to bring the right-handed pitcher in from Japan during the off-season. The club had to pay $20 million to his Japanese team for the right to negotiate, and then signed Tanaka to a $155 million dollar contract. His credentials gave New York good reason to spend all of that money. Tanaka was 99-35 with his Japanese team the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles since 2006 and had won 26 straight games. His lifetime ERA was 2.30 with 1,238 strikeouts. He was rookie-of-the-year in 2007, and is a 5-time Japanese all-star
In his debut today for the New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka struck out 3 batters over two-innings, showing off a splitter that was called “nasty” by fellow pitcher and all-star teammate C.C. Sabathia. Sabathia pitched the first two innings of the game, with Huroki Kuroda working the third and fourth before Tanaka took over.
Entering the game in the fifth inning Tanaka was greeted with a standing ovation and quickly went up 0-2 on the Phillies Darin Ruf, who then reached first base on a line-drive single. If giving up a hit to his first batter bothered Tanaka he did not show it, taking down the next two batters on fly balls before striking out Cesar Hernandez on a 94 mph fastball to end the inning.
He started the sixth by striking out center fielder Ben Revere on three pitches, then allowing a single on an 0-2 pitch to Ronny Cedeno. A strike out of Dominic Brown and fly out by Kelly Dugan were the final two outs of the day for Tanaka, who left after throwing four pitches fewer than the Yankees planned on allowing him in his first start.
The New York Yankees debut of Masahiro Tanaka was an event that overshadowed all others Saturday, giving retiring Derek Jeter and ace Sabathia a rare break from the horde of media that usually surrounds their every move. Manager Joe Girardi has tried to keep Tanaka under the radar as much as possible, but was happy to let him get his first game out of the way. Expectations have been for Tanaka to be the number three starter behind Sabathia and Kuroda, but Girardi has not made that decision yet. If the high-priced newcomer from Japan earns the right to be third in the Yankees pitching rotation, his first start of the regular season would probably be April 3 in Houston.
By Chuck Podhaisky