TAMPA, Fla. — Masahiro Tanaka didn’t wait for his translator to relay the question about the season opener.
“Yeah,” the righthander said with a smile. “I’m ready.”
In his final tune-up before taking the mound Thursday afternoon against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Opening Day, Tanaka looked more than ready Saturday afternoon in the Yankees’ 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field. He allowed one hit and struck out three in two innings, throwing 29 pitches.
“I thought he was really sharp today,” Aaron Boone said.
What tells Tanaka, who started three straight season openers for the Yankees from 2015-17, that he’s ready?
“Just being able to work on certain situations,” he said through his translator. “I think I was in a lot of various situations throughout spring training, so just being able to go through that. Also, the quality of all the pitches, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at with all of them.”
Tanaka, who is 64-34 with a 3.59 ERA in five seasons with the Yankees, began spring training wanting to work on two pitches in particular.
“The cutter and curveball I wanted to work on a little bit more than the other pitches, and both of the pitches, I like where I’m at with them,” he said. “Also, I think I was able to work on the splitter, slider, as well as the quality of the fastball command. Overall, all the pitches, I’m pretty happy with where I’m at right now.”
At the start of camp, Tanaka disclosed that starting late last season, he changed his curveball, throwing more of a knuckle curve.
“I really didn’t like how the previous curveball was moving, so I wanted to try something new, and that’s where basically I have a new curveball now,” Tanaka said in early March.
Said Boone, “I really like the way he incorporated his cut fastball. That’s been something he’s been working on the side I feel a little more the last couple of weeks [in the bullpen]. He used it in his last start where he was extended [a five-inning outing in Kissimmee against the Braves], and then I thought he was really good with it today. I thought it was one of his better splits that he had going today. Real sharp, real clean [overall]. Good to see him finish up that way. I feel like he’s ready to go.”
Tanaka is coming off a 2018 season that was somewhat of a roller-coaster ride, one in which he went 12-6 with a 3.75 ERA. After a tough stretch early on — he had a 4.68 ERA as late as July 10 — Tanaka was 5-4 with a 2.85 ERA in his last 13 starts. He also continued a trend of being a postseason standout, allowing one run in five innings in a 6-2 victory over the Red Sox in Game 2 of the Division Series.
He is getting Thursday’s start because ace Luis Severino will start the season on the injured list and is likely to miss at least the first month. Tanaka said Severino’s absence doesn’t increase the pressure on him. At least, he doesn’t look at it that way.
“No, I can’t be feeling pressure,” he said. “When I go out on the mound, I have to do my job, and that’s by far most important. Definitely it’s a big blow to our team not having Severino going into the season. But for me, I just want to go out there and do the best that I can on the mound.”