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Masahiro Tanaka wows during live batting practice

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka throws a pitch

Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka throws a pitch during spring training practice Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. Credit: AP / Charlie Neibergall

TAMPA, Fla. - Austin Romine saw the pitch go by and wasn't sure what to make of it.

"I had to turn around and ask what the pitch was," he said. "I've never seen the ball move like that before."

It was a Masahiro Tanaka splitter, a pitch some talent evaluators have described in reports as "the best in the world."

The righthander put his full arsenal -- Brian McCann estimated that he was throwing at "probably 80 percent" while Tanaka went with "maybe 70" -- on display for hitters for the first time in camp during a 35-pitch live batting practice session Friday morning.

"I'm glad he's on our team," said Romine, one of four hitters Tanaka faced. "I haven't caught him yet, but from a hitting standpoint, it's something special."

Tanaka, signed to a seven-year, $155-million contract last month, took the mound just before 9 a.m. at Steinbrenner Field with all the expected trimmings. That meant the full contingent of Japanese -- not to mention American -- media watching, as well as general manager Brian Cashman, manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Larry Rothschild and a handful of the club's professional scouts in town for meetings.

"As good as advertised," said McCann, who caught Tanaka for the first time. "I know it's only a live bullpen, but you can tell he's got the stuff."

McCann said the hype for Tanaka's splitter is warranted.

"He's got a great split. It really falls off the table," McCann said. "His motion's completely the same as his fastball and I think that's the key to getting swings and misses."

Tanaka, speaking through a translator, said he felt "really good out there" and hopes to pitch in a game as soon as possible.

"I don't think I need that many live BP sessions," Tanaka said. "I'd really like to get into games more and try to build my arm strength through games."

The Yankees open the exhibition season Tuesday at home against Florida State and travel to Bradenton on Wednesday to face the Pirates. Girardi said Tanaka won't have any more starts in spring training than the rest of his projected rotation -- usually six games -- and wasn't ready to disclose when he will make his debut.

As for the session, Girardi was pleased.

"His stuff looked crisp to me. The ball looked like it was coming out good," said Girardi, who also watched CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Hiroki Kuroda throw live BP. "I thought today was a really good day when you think about the people that threw today and the importance to our team."

Notes & quotes: Given the similarities in the pitching styles of Kuroda and Tanaka, Girardi said he'll consider splitting the two pitchers in the rotation . . . After his session, Sabathia said he felt encouraged by his strength and endurance . . . Girardi has done team bonding outings the day before games start in the past, and the word is that a trip to a pool hall, which was the event in 2009, is on the docket for Monday.


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