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Masahiro Tanaka isn’t worried about rough exhibition debut

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka walks off after

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka walks off after pitching in the first inning of a spring game against the Braves, Friday, March 2, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP / Lynne Sladky

TAMPA, Fla. — Masahiro Tanaka isn’t sweating it.

Yankees fans shouldn’t either.

Tanaka, considered one of the keys to the Yankees’ rotation this season, struggled in his exhibition debut Friday, allowing four runs and four hits in 1 1⁄3 innings in a 5-4 victory over the Braves at Steinbrenner Field.

“A lot of mistakes on my side,” Tanaka — who allowed a two-out, two-run homer by Ronald Acuna Jr. in the first inning — said through his translator. “Fastball was flat, things weren’t coming out of my hand right. I think the results tell it all.”

But about those results:

They were achieved with Tanaka essentially throwing two pitches.

He entered the start wanting to work on his fastball command and curveball, staying away from his slider and splitter for the most part. Tanaka gets a good deal of his strikeouts on the latter two pitches.

“Body looked good, arm action looked fine,” one opposing team scout said. “Just threw some ‘get over’ breaking balls. Really no sliders or splits that tax the arm. Wasn’t cutting it loose at all. I’d be encouraged if I was [pitching coach Larry] Rothschild.”

Aaron Boone called the outing a “work” day more than anything.

“Really working on establishing his fastball, just working on a couple of things,” he said. “I think it was a true kind of spring training [outing] of a veteran, established guy working on certain things. A good first step for him.”

Anyway, what happens at this time of year, whether positive or negative, rarely portends what is to come in the regular season.

Tanaka, for instance, was the best pitcher in the Grapefruit League last year, allowing one earned run in 23 2⁄3 innings. He struck out 28 and walked five.

Tanaka then got shelled in the season opener against the Rays in St. Petersburg, allowing seven runs in 2 2⁄3 innings in a 7-3 loss. He went on to go 13-12 with a 4.74 ERA in the regular season, one in which he allowed a career-high 35 homers in 178 1⁄3 innings. Tanaka allowed 62 homers in 490 innings in his first three years with the Yankees, going 39-16 with a 3.12 ERA in that stretch.

While the splitters that didn’t split and sliders that hardly broke at all commanded a lot of attention last season — greatly contributing to the increase in homers — opposing scouts and the Yankees thought many of Tanaka’s issues came down to inconsistency with his fastball, particularly a lack of effectiveness pitching inside.

It is a point of emphasis this time around.

“It didn’t work out right, but fastball command and also offspeed stuff, especially earlier in the count, trying to get that in for strikes,” Tanaka said of his game plan Friday. “That was what I had in mind going in.”

Most veteran pitchers shrug off spring training results, good or bad. CC Sabathia, who threw two scoreless innings in his debut Thursday against the Phillies in Clearwater, has long said that all that matters to him in February and March is how he feels physically.

“Just getting work in,” he often says after exhibition outings.

“It’s the same for me. You don’t really look at the results,” Tanaka said. “It’s more of going into the outing with a theme on your mind and being able to execute that. As far as results go, I don’t look at that.”

Tanaka was asked if the outing worried him.

“No,” he replied. “Not at all.”

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