Masahiro Tanaka has so-so start against Twins

Masahiro Tanaka delivers a pitch during a spring

Masahiro Tanaka delivers a pitch during a spring training game against the Atlanta Braves at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 16, 2014 in Tampa. (Credit: Getty Images / Mike Carlson)

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Masahiro Tanaka wanted to make the two-hour-plus bus ride Saturday to face major-league hitters rather than stay back in Tampa and pitch in a minor-league game, as his countryman and teammate Hiroki Kuroda did.

Chances are it wasn't entirely up to Tanaka anyway. The $155-million righthander is a major-league rookie and Kuroda is a veteran. Rookies get on the bus, even ones as well paid as Tanaka.

Tanaka allowed three runs in 52/3 innings in the Yankees' 5-4 win over the Twins in front of a Hammond Stadium record crowd of 9,298. In his fourth appearance of spring training, Tanaka allowed five hits, walked one, struck out six and hit a batter in a 92-pitch effort.

"I thought that it was really obvious that I had good innings and I had bad innings out there today,'' he said through a translator.

Said Joe Girardi: "He did all right. I've seen him sharper. I thought the first three innings, he struggled with his command . . . Overall, I was pleased because I don't think he had his great stuff today.''

A replay review reversal helped Tanaka in the third. Girardi challenged a safe call on a steal of second by Aaron Hicks. After a 44-second review, the tag by Dean Anna was confirmed, the call was reversed and Hicks was the second out.

The successful challenge was key because the next three batters reached on a single, an error by third baseman Scott Sizemore and a four-pitch walk to Joe Mauer. Tanaka escaped without a run scoring when Josh Willingham hit a fly ball to the warning track in leftfield (likely a grand slam at Yankee Stadium).

Mauer, who also grounded out and struck out against Tanaka, was impressed by the righthander. "He's pretty good,'' he said. "I was impressed with how many different speeds and different pitches he threw.''

Said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire: "Looks like he's going to be a good one. Which we all thought he would. I don't think they'd go after a guy if he wasn't good.''

With Opening Day in Houston nine days away, the Yankees are pleased with how their rotation is shaping up.

CC Sabathia followed up his five no-hit innings against the Marlins in Panama by throwing seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts against the Pirates Friday night. Sabathia, who will start the opener April 1, has allowed four hits in his last 12 innings.

Sabathia's fastball still is in the range of 89 to 91 mph, but he is buoyed by how good he feels after last season's 14-13, 4.78 disappointment.

"It's spring training,'' Sabathia said. "I do feel like I have a lot to prove, but it kind of is what it is. I wasn't right last year. I wasn't the same guy. I feel confident, I feel strong. Hopefully, I can carry this into the season . . . If I pitch like this April 1, then I'll be happy.''

Sabathia said he used his new Andy Pettitte-taught cutter and also depended on his changeup, a pitch he felt he lost last year.

"My changeup is the key to everything,'' he said. "I always want to throw more changeups than cutters or sliders. I have to use my changeup to be effective. When I got here, it was my second-best pitch, and I kind of got away from it.''

Ivan Nova will face minor- leaguers Monday as the rest of the Yankees will have the day off. Nova threw 61/3 scoreless innings against the Braves' regular lineup in his last outing.

Girardi indicated the fifth-starter battle between Michael Pineda and David Phelps will be resolved by Tuesday. Pineda, the favorite, will pitch against the Blue Jays Sunday. He shut out Boston's "B'' lineup for 41/3 innings in his last outing.

Phelps isn't making it easy, though. He gave up two runs in six innings to Boston's "A'' lineup Thursday. But Phelps' versatility -- an ability to pitch in relief that Pineda lacks -- probably will relegate the righthander to the Yankees' unsettled bullpen.

"Everybody's doing well, thankfully,'' general manager Brian Cashman said of the fifth-starter battle, which (at least officially) still includes Adam Warren and Vidal Nuño. "It's been the best of all scenarios so far. They're making it tough. Whoever doesn't get picked will be disappointed and would have a right to be.''

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