FUKUOKA – So, which side of Masahiro Tanaka did we see on Wednesday night?
The question appears to remain.
The 24-year-old Japanese right-hander pitched for two frames, starting in the fourth inning, in Japan’s 6-3 loss to Cuba in the first round of the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday.
For the fourth consecutive game, Tanaka gave up a run in the first inning he pitched in, when he allowed an RBI double to Frederich Cepeda. But after that, he struck out five batters.
Tanaka, who ended up yielding three hits in the game, humbly said afterward, “I don’t know what to say, because I gave up a run.”
His coaches said that the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles star still needs to improve, but he’d certainly progressed from his previous games.
Pitching coach Tsuyoshi Yoda said that Team Japan had a bad outing in the game to decide the winner of Pool A, mainly with its poor offensive performance for much of the game, but took Tanaka’s showing as a positive one.
“In his first inning, (the Cubans) had just good swings on (Tanaka’s) fastballs,” Yoda said. “However, guided by (catcher Shinnosuke) Abe behind the plate, he got settled down and held them using breaking balls effectively.
“I believe that there were some positive signs there.”
It’s often said that great baseball players can correct themselves quickly. Yoda suggested that it is what Tanaka did on the night.
“It’s important that you can adjust yourself during a game,” he said. “I personally think that Tanaka was able to nicely adjust himself from the second inning.”
It was the first time that Tanaka, the 2011 Sawamura Award recipient, came on the hill as a reliever since the team began playing exhibitions in mid-February. Whether he’ll be back in Japan’s starting rotation is uncertain at this point.
Japan skipper Koji Yamamoto said that he didn’t think Tanaka was that bad against Cuba, but wouldn’t give the reporters a definite answer about the pitcher’s status for the second round at Tokyo Dome.
“We may use him as a reliever, we may use him as a starter,” Yamamoto said.