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Masahiro Tanaka works on his splitter in simulated game

Masahiro Tanaka pitches during a simulated game Tuesday,

Masahiro Tanaka pitches during a simulated game Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Steve Nesius

TAMPA, Fla. - It was only a simulated game, but Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was pleased with his four innings of work Tuesday morning, striking out nine batters with impressive control.

"Obviously, it's different from a real game," Tanaka said through a translator, hours before his teammates played against Washington in Viera, on Florida's opposite coast. "I took it as part of a practice. I just wanted to go out there and work on some of the stuff I wanted to work on. Mainly the splitter and also the location of the fastball."

Tanaka, a 25-year-old phenom signed from Japan to a seven-year, $155-million contract, threw 63 pitches at Steinbrenner Field, 49 for strikes, including an impressive run of 16 consecutive strikes in the first two innings.

"Next time, I'll be throwing in one of the regular games," he said. "Some of the adjustments I was able to make today, I just want to see if I can do that in a real game."

He faced only two different batters, alternating lefty-righty, with no fielders behind him and only reporters in the stands -- pitching coach Larry Rothschild called balls and strikes while standing next to him, as well as deciding whether balls put in play were hits or outs. Yankees pitchers David Robertson, Matt Thornton, Preston Claiborne and Vidal Nuño also threw in the simulated game, with 2010 first-round pick Cito Culver as one of the batters.

Tanaka's only significant mistake was a fastball that minor-league outfielder Jake Cave, 21, sent over the rightfield wall in the second inning.

"I guessed right on one of the eight pitches he throws," said Cave, who hit .282 at Class A Charleston last season. "He's good. He's really good."

Tanaka averaged nearly a strikeout per inning in his seven seasons as a professional in Japan, totaling 1,238 strikeouts in 1,315 innings.

The righthander, wearing No. 19 on a sunny morning, had at least two strikeouts in each inning Tuesday, and said he worked specifically on his splitter -- a dominant pitch he used well for third strikes -- after not being happy with its effectiveness in his last outing.

He said he was pleased with his ability to get first-pitch strikes with his curveball, as well.

New York Sports