Masahiro Tanaka makes a good first impression in initial bullpen session
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TAMPA, Fla. - Francisco Cervelli, like everyone else, was curious.
"24-0," the catcher said Thursday of Masahiro Tanaka's record last year with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan. "When you see those kind of numbers , that's ridiculous."
After catching Tanaka's first bullpen as a Yankees, a 25-pitch session Thursday morning at the Yankees' minor-league complex, Cervelli was all smiles. "It's going to be fun," he said. "I hope he can win more than 20."
Cervelli was playing the role of cheerleader to a degree and knew it, making sure to point out the 25-year-old Tanaka was only throwing at about "60 percent."
He threw mostly fastballs and sliders, and just a few splitters -- a pitch some talent evaluators have called the "best in the world" -- under orders from pitching coach Larry Rothschild.
"He's still trying to catch up I think with the time change and everything so [we're] just trying to ease him into things right now," Rothschild said. "But everything's good. You can see the arm strength and everything else. Again, we're going to go slow with it."
Tanaka, who arrived at 9:03 a.m. and left at 10:29, did not stop to speak with the phalanx of Japanese reporters waiting outside or the American reporters on the Derek Jeter Watch.
Tanaka got to Tampa Tuesday night after his news conference at Yankee Stadium and met with Rothschild Wednesday afternoon at Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees' spring training home down the road from the minor-league complex.
The righthander has plenty on his plate, and that's without the media scrutiny accompanying his every step. There's adjusting from pitching once a week in Japan to once every five days in the majors, as well as the slightly larger baseballs and firmer pitching mounds here.
"I think it's easier to do if you're mentally ready to do it, and he's in that spot," Rothschild said. "That's where his mind is. He's come here wanting to make adjustments and wanting to get used to the schedule and the baseball and the mound."
Rothschild said Tanaka's next bullpen session will be tomorrow, but not much has been mapped out beyond that.
The pitching coach said it's far too early to predict what kind of big-league pitcher Tanaka will be, but he likes what he's seen and heard so far.
"He laughs and I think he's good-natured, but I can tell by watching the tape of him and his games that he's a competitor and that's the side you want to see," Rothschild said. "He seems to have a nature where he's able to adjust to things and not get overly excited, which I think when you see what he's been through the last week and how he's handling it."
"He just kind of goes along and gets ready and does his thing, that tells you something about him."