Masahiro Tanaka strikes out three in two scoreless innings
TAMPA, Fla. -- When the kind of spring training day not seen here in some time finally was over, the pitcher at the heart of the frenzy had one overwhelming feeling.
"I'm relieved," Masahiro Tanaka said.
The 25-year-old Japanese righthander, brought to the United States in a whirlwind of hype and expectation, not to mention $155 million, made his spring training debut for the Yankees Saturday afternoon and didn't disappoint.
Tanaka, using an arsenal of seven pitches, threw two scoreless innings, allowed two singles and struck out three in the Yankees' 4-0 victory over the Phillies. The sellout crowd of 10,934 at Steinbrenner Field included owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner.
"I was nervous, but it was a really good nervousness," Tanaka said through his translator. "I felt pretty good out there."
Tanaka, whose every movement in camp is chronicled by a horde of Japanese media -- and plenty from the U.S. as well -- arrived in the clubhouse at 11:17 a.m. and took the mound at 2:14 p.m. to begin the fifth inning. He followed CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, each of whom pitched two scoreless innings.
Sabathia stuck around to watch Tanaka, and he wasn't alone. As Tanaka took the mound to start the fifth, it appeared as if all of the players in camp were crammed shoulder- to-shoulder on the top step of the dugout to watch.
"Filthy," Sabathia said in describing Tanaka's repertoire, which includes a two- and four-seam fastball, curveball, slider, cutter, splitter and changeup. "I played catch with him yesterday and that split is dirty, and he showed it today."
Tanaka, who went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA with the Rakuten Golden Eagles last season, is best known for his splitter. He threw three Saturday, striking out Ben Revere swinging with an 87-mph drop-straight-off-the-table splitter to lead off the sixth.
Had Revere ever seen a pitch like that before?
"Uh, no, it was good," he told Philadelphia reporters. "It definitely had late movement on it. You're going up there blinded. You don't know what the guy throws or anything. You're just looking. You see what he has, and the next time you face him it'll be a little easier. He has an advantage on you right now."
Darin Ruf, the first batter Tanaka faced, lined a single to center on an 0-and-2 fastball and Ronny Cedeño flared a soft single to center with one out in the sixth. Tanaka struck out Cesar Hernandez swinging on a fastball away to end the fifth and also fanned Domonic Brown, who waved at a high, inside fastball that tied him up, in the sixth. He also got three flyouts.
Tanaka, who reached 94 mph, no doubt thrilled plenty in Japan. Two networks broadcast the game live even though it started at 3:00 a.m. there.
"Encouraged by what I saw, how he handled it," Joe Girardi said. "He got in the stretch, gave up an 0-2 hit, it didn't fester. He just went back to work. I thought that was all good."
The Yankees, obviously, were pleased with the results. Opposing scouts, for the most part, were impressed.
"Fastball is straight but has late jump to it," one talent evaluator said. "Slider is a late breaker and I like the split. Curveball has good bite also. He should be good."
Another scout, however, thought there were some red flags, mentioning the bigger ball used in the major leagues compared to Japan.
"Seems like fingers are a bit small for MLB baseball and has trouble staying on top of the ball, leaving it up in the zone," the scout said. "Might take some time [to adjust] . . . Looks like a fly-ball pitcher. Might see a few go into right-field seats from lefthanded hitters at [Yankee Stadium].''
In the end, it was one 31-pitch spring training outing, an encouraging one from the Yankees' perspective. Probably, however, there was not much more to take from it than that.
"He was good for the first day," catcher Francisco Cervelli said. "I think people liked it and I liked it, too. His command was good. He tried to locate and we're trying to know each other, but it looks all good."