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Pedro Martinez's comments leave Masahiro Tanaka bemused

Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka at George Steinbrenner Field

Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka at George Steinbrenner Field on Friday, Feb. 20, 2015 in Tampa, Fla. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

TAMPA, Fla. - Masahiro Tanaka's first reaction after hearing of Pedro Martinez's comments wasn't anger or even confusion.

It was surprise.

And he was a bit flattered.

"I feel kind of honored because a pitcher of that stature is talking about me,'' Tanaka said through his translator Thursday morning. "I was a little bit surprised by that . . . but I understand that everybody has their opinion about certain things and the way I pitch. But for me, I know where I'm at and I feel good, and I think that's most important.''

Martinez, elected to the Hall of Fame earlier this year, created a bit of a stir Wednesday when, speaking on SiriusXM's Mad Dog Sports Radio, he declared Tanaka an unhealthy pitcher, one he is sure will break down this season.

"I don't see him healthy all year,'' Martinez said. "And I don't see him healthy right now. I'll be brave enough to say he's not completely healthy right now.''

He continued: "I believe Tanaka is hesitant to let it go. Tanaka is hanging all those breaking balls that he is throwing. The only pitch he is committing to is the split finger, and his problems are actually in a place where you don't need to put any more stress, which is the elbow. And he's hesitant. He's hesitating to throw his fastball and he's hanging every breaking ball he's throwing out there. Plus his velocity is not there yet.''

But scouts and the Yankees' internal numbers say Tanaka's fastball velocity is only a tick or two down from what it was at this point of spring training last year. Additionally, he has been clear that he's been throwing many more two-seamers, which have slightly less velocity than his four-seam fastball, this year as he tries to further incorporate that pitch into his repertoire.

Asked if he can throw harder than he has been, Tanaka said: "Yes, I've been throwing that in the past and if I wanted to, I could.''

Martinez's "hanging every breaking ball'' comment did seem to perplex Tanaka.

"I think Pedro was looking at specifically the last game [Tuesday against the Twins] I was pitching and, as you guys know, my stuff wasn't the sharpest that day,'' he said. "But the games prior to that, I felt my breaking balls were there, and in the bullpen, I was throwing them pretty well. So I'm not worried about that, either.''

Neither is Brian Cashman. He paid respect to Martinez, calling him "one of the best righthanded starters I ever saw,'' but made it clear that the opinions of medical experts and Tanaka are the ones he most values.

"It only matters what Tanaka says, really,'' Cashman said. "And I think typically it's true that a lot of players go through spring training kind of waiting for the bell to ring. But listen, he's [Martinez] got his opinion, it's going to play out either way. I respect his opinion and we'll see. I hope he's wrong.''

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