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Adjustment period begins in earnest for Masahiro Tanaka

Yankees Masahiro Tanaka works out at Steinbrenner Field

Yankees Masahiro Tanaka works out at Steinbrenner Field on the morning of Feb. 15, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

TAMPA, Fla. - Nearly four minutes into his post-workout news conference, Joe Girardi had been asked about Masahiro Tanaka and no one else.

So the manager gently pointed out that there were other players he watched during the first workout of spring training for pitchers and catchers.

"There were three other guys throwing that I also had interest in, too," Girardi said Saturday afternoon.

Those pitchers would be CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova, all of whom threw side-by-side bullpen sessions simultaneously with Tanaka and collectively are expected to occupy the first four spots in the Yankees' rotation.

A throng of media, Japanese and American, watched and took pictures, along with fans who showed up for the late- morning workout.

Almost all of their attention was focused on the 25-year-old Japanese phenom, he of the killer splitter and 24-0 record last season in Japan.

"Honestly, when I stepped out on the field today, I was very, very surprised as to how many media there were out there," Tanaka said through his interpreter. "As a player, I feel very honored to get this much attention. Some of the fans were cheering today and actually I was very happy to receive those cheers, but at the same time, I understand that I haven't given out any results on the field, so my focus is to train and go out there and try to get those results."

Results that won't be determined from a 32-pitch bullpen session on the first day of spring training.

Still, Francisco Cervelli, who caught Tanaka two days earlier at the club's minor-league complex and again Saturday, was impressed.

"The fastball command was really good," Cervelli said. "He threw the same pitches -- slider, split, fastball -- but what I cared about was the fastball, and it was really good."

Girardi said that at this stage, the quality of pitches isn't necessarily something he's looking at.

"It was a good day," he said. "I didn't think he was trying to do too much. I thought he had a good plan when he went out there what he was going to do and I thought he executed it. I told you yesterday, with the open competitions that we have here, I have some concerns about guys trying to do too much, and I didn't see that today."

A potential concern of Girardi's is that Tanaka will be distracted by the hype surrounding virtually every move he makes, though the pitcher said getting his work done won't be a problem.

"I didn't feel that way," Tanaka said.

He warmed up with Kuroda before throwing his bullpen session, and the veteran pitcher could be seen talking with Tanaka. When Kuroda came to the majors with the 2008 Dodgers, he dealt with similar attention, as did previous Japanese stars such as Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui.

"I feel very fortunate and very thankful that he is here," Tanaka said of Kuroda. "He's a veteran here in the majors and obviously, he's one of the key guys that kept the rotation for the Yankees, so I feel fortunate."

Girardi agreed, citing other adjustments that Tanaka has to make besides the media spotlight: the slightly bigger baseball, the firmer pitching mound and -- the biggest obstacle -- getting used to pitching every fifth day compared with every sixth or seventh day in Japan.

"I think it's advantageous for Tanaka to have Kuroda here in making those adjustments because you're looking at someone that you probably watched pitch over in the big leagues there and here and you saw him make the adjustment and how he did it," Girardi said. "And I just think there's a natural bond there because of where they're from. It's good for us."

It is too soon to tell how any of those adjustments are going, but Tanaka didn't single out any of them as his biggest hurdle. Instead, he mentioned the running -- about a mile -- after his bullpen session.

"That one was really hard for me today," he said with a smile. "I didn't know that I was going to run this much. And I'm a little bit of a slow runner. But that part I really can't help."

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