TAMPA, Fla. - Masahiro Tanaka is growing more comfortable with his move to the majors, but the same can't be said for opposing hitters. On Sunday it was the Braves' turn to flail away at the unpredictable Tanaka, who used a dizzying array of breaking pitches -- thrown at a variety of speeds -- and struck out six in 4 1/3 innings at Steinbrenner Field.
"It beyond surprises me,'' catcher Brian McCann said. "To be only 25 years old and to understand how to maneuver through a lineup is really impressive.''
The Yankees were worried about how Tanaka would adjust, but it's the opponents who need to be taking notes -- and scouting reports probably won't help much anyway. The speed of Tanaka's pitches varied from a 93-mph fastball to an 87-mph splitter to a curve he floated twice at 70.
When McCann was asked if Sunday's 74-pitch outing might be more of a reflection of how Tanaka will attack hitters in the regular season -- relentlessly changing speeds -- he refused to provide any clues. "We're not going to tip our hand this early in camp,'' he said.
Tanaka also threw his splitter in different spots. In the first inning, he froze Freddie Freeman with one that he placed up in the strike zone. The next batter, Justin Upton, hacked at another splitter, this time one that Tanaka buried.
Despite all the swings and misses Tanaka got with the splitter against Atlanta, though, his signature pitch evidently still needs work. "I'm not quite there yet,'' he said through his interpreter. "I feel that I can control it a little better.''
In addition to the Braves, Tanaka has faced the Phillies twice, so he's gradually getting a feel for what will await him come April. The way the Yankees have the schedule mapped out, they seem to be leaning toward the No. 4 spot for Tanaka, who would make his debut April 4 against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
Regardless of where he winds up, the Yankees sound confident Tanaka will thrive.
"He's handled everything with ease -- as if he's done it before,'' Brian Cashman said before Sunday's start. "He feels like he's been a part of this team and this organization for more than six or eight weeks. [Hideki] Matsui was like that. He kind of just fits right in. He's made it easier on us.''
Tanaka's third-inning walk to Jason Heyward was his first of spring training, and he finished with two. He allowed three hits, and the lone run off him came on Tommy La Stella's wind-blown RBI double that carried off the top of the leftfield wall in the fourth. In three Grapefruit League games, Tanaka has a 1.93 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 91/3 innings.
Ellsbury scratched.Jacoby Ellsbury was pulled from the lineup Sunday morning with a tight right calf, and the Yankees' $153-million centerfielder is not expected to play again until Tuesday at the earliest. Ellsbury first experienced the calf issue while working out Saturday, then notified the trainer upon his arrival at the ballpark Sunday.
"We're just going to make sure we give it some time,'' Cashman said.
Ellsbury insisted that he could have played but also understood why he was held out. "If it was the regular season,'' he said, "I'd be playing for sure.''