The Angels will get their first look at Masahiro Tanaka in Sunday night's series finale at Yankee Stadium, and if the Japanese import's early track record holds true, that first look might be the best one they get.
What little success opponents have had against the righthander has come mostly on the first time through the batting order. In the four games he has started, opponents are hitting .314 (11-for-35) with two homers and only 10 strikeouts when they first see him. After that? The average sinks to .149 (11-for-74) with two homers, and exactly one-third of the 75 hitters in that scenario have struck out.
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It seems counterintuitive that hitters would be able to hit a pitcher they have never before seen in person early and then taper off. It's usually the hitters who adjust and catch up to a rookie's stuff. But part of the formula here may be Tanaka's ignorance of whom he is facing, and not the other way around.
Asked through a translator what he knows about Angels sluggers Albert Pujols and Mike Trout, Tanaka gave practically the same answer he's given about every other batter, ballpark and scenario he's encountered in the last month.
"I did know that they were good batters,'' he said, "but basically for all the teams, I've said this before, I've been playing in Japan the past seven years, so to be honest with you, I'm not really familiar with any of the batters here.''
The Angels have seen enough of Tanaka on video to know his basic strengths and weaknesses. "He's the type of guy you want to get up in the zone,'' Chris Iannetta said Saturday, referring to laying off the splitter that looks like a fastball before diving at the last moment. "Don't swing at the stuff low in the zone. If you do, he's got a huge advantage.''
It's not just the Angels who will be introduced to Tanaka. He'll try to keep his squeaky-clean 3-0 record unblemished on the national stage of a Sunday night game on ESPN, giving the majority of the country its first chance to watch him work.
Tanaka -- who has a 2.15 ERA and has struck out 35 and walked two in 291/3 innings -- downplayed that significance. "I just have to go out there and do my job,'' he said, "so no, it doesn't matter much to me.''
Despite all of the advanced scouting and video study that teams can compile, Iannetta said there is no substitute for actually digging in against a new pitcher.
"You can know what some stuff does, you can translate it, get a feel, but until you get in the box, you never really know,'' he said. "We'll see what happens. The guy seems like a really good pitcher. He's shown that over his last few starts. We'll see.''