Saturday, April 5, 2014

New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka shows poise in MLB debut

The New York Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year contract worth $155 million in the offseason and most clamored on and on about his impressive split-finger fastball. Indeed the pitch can be devastating, but in his MLB debut against the Toronto Blue Jays Friday night, it was Tanaka’s poise that stood out.

Any player making his big league debut is already feeling some pressure to perform well. Any individual, in any job wants to do their best especially on their "first" day. It’s about showing they belong. Tanaka, had about as rough a beginning as possible, but he persevered and came out on top in the Yankees 7-3 victory. In the process he showed he can hold his own as a major leaguer.

After the Yankees staked Tanaka to a two-run lead courtesy of RBI-singles from Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira in the top half of the first inning, he took the hill with flashbulbs popping all over Rogers Centre.

Tanaka faced former Yankee Melky Cabrera who deposited his third pitch, an 86-mph changeup, over the right center field wall. Tanaka will have to live with that trivia question for the rest of his life.

The second inning was not much better for the 25-year-old Japanese star who went 24-0 last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Pacific League. He allowed three singles in the frame, including a two-run knock by Jonathan Diaz which gave the Blue Jays a 3-2 lead. But Tanaka showed signs of clamping down by getting out of the inning by striking out Cabrera and then Colby Rasmus.

The Yankees won a replay challenge in the third when Ichiro Suzuki was ruled safe on a fielder’s choice. Yangervis Solarte, making his second straight start, ripped a two-out, two-run double right after it to give the Yankees back the lead.

Tanaka was very strong from that point on and held up the lead allowing just two more hits. Tanaka finished the night giving up three runs (two earned) on six hits with eight strikeouts and zero walks in seven innings of work. He tossed 97 pitches.

I noted several times during spring training that Tanaka’s demeanor on the mound is incredible. During his rough first two innings he never looked frazzled. In fact he seemed to get more locked in. He is certainly not a thrower, he’s a pitcher. He’s thinking up on the hill and exudes confidence even when faced with a tough situation.

Yankees manager Joe Girardi heaped praise on his starter’s composure.

"I think it's really impressive," Girardi said via "You think about what he's had to deal with all Spring Training, the attention that's been on him. The covers of magazines. Everywhere he goes, people want to know when's he pitching. That started Feb. 14. I think he's handled it great."

Toronto manager John Gibbon’s was equally impressed.

"He's the real deal," Gibbons said. "He made a few mistakes and we capitalized on them, and those are the balls you have to hit. But he's strong, he stayed in the game, and when they gave him the lead back he kicked it in pretty good."

After the Blue Jays conducted their home opener ceremonies, the night belonged to Tanaka and he delivered in more ways than one.

  • Teixeira was removed from the game in the second inning after straining his right hamstring. He missed 147 games in 2013.
  • Dean Anna made his major league debut as well last night. He went 1-for-4 with a walk and run scored.
  • The Yankees rapped out 16 hits, but have yet to hit a home run.

Today’s Game:

The Yankees send Michael Pineda to the mound to face R.A. Dickey. Pineda has not pitched in a big league regular season game since 2011. He had a fantastic spring after coming to camp in better shape and with a healthy arm.

Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.