TAMPA, FLORIDA – Masahiro Tanaka made an effective if unremarkable spring debut on Saturday with the New York Yankees, who signed the Pacific League MVP and two-time Sawamura Award winner on a seven-year deal worth $155 million.
The 25-year-old Tanaka struck out three and allowed two singles in two scoreless innings out of the bullpen in a 4-0 preseason win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Steinbrenner Field. Tanaka, who entered to a roaring applause, had good command of his fastball, but frequently missed with his curve and slider in his 32-pitch outing.
“I think I did OK,” Tanaka said. “I did a decent job of pitching to the opposing batters and didn’t walk anyone so that was good. My form is not nearly there yet, so I have a lot to do.
“As far as my control, there were times when I needed to execute better. I am going to need to cut down on the number of pitches. There were places where I could have thrown fewer today. There are a few things I need to address in that regard.”
A good crowd at New York’s spring training home showed their appreciation for retiring Yankees captain Derek Jeter with a loud applause when he batted in the bottom of the first, and the home fans were treated to two sharp innings each from ace CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, who wound up as the winning pitcher.
Kuroda gave up a bunt single to the first batter he faced but the next pitch got him a double play and the right-hander needed just 17 pitches to complete his assigned innings.
Kuroda struck out two batters, and compatriot Ichiro Suzuki gave the Yankees the lead in the bottom of the fourth with a sharp RBI single while Tanaka paced in the dugout waiting his turn to pitch.
The applause Jeter received proved to be a warmup for the ovation that greeted Tanaka’s entry in the fifth.
“It was my first live game and in that context, I was fired up and that’s how I pitched,” said Tanaka.
“During our at-bat before I came on, the opposing pitchers didn’t have their control so it was a long inning while I waited to take the field. There’s no problem with our guys batting for a long time, but it was like, ‘It’s not time yet, not yet, still not yet.’ ”
Tanaka didn’t shake off Francisco Cervelli once, but said he expected that would change.
“Today, I basically let Cervelli put down the signs and I just tried to throw it where he wanted it,” Tanaka said. “As time goes on, I expect my pitching patterns will change and there will be times when I shake off the catcher. But I think that will happen as we build our rapport and progress.”
Tanaka went 24-0 last season, when he helped pitch the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles to their first PL pennant and Japan Series championship.
When asked on television how it felt to finally climb the mound he had longed to pitch from, Tanaka said pitching in an exhibition was not his objective.
“This (preseason game) isn’t something I particularly aspired to,” Tanaka said. “I came to compete, and to do that I still have to keep at it and adjust.”
Setback for Iwakuma
Seattle — Seattle Mariners All-Star pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma will not be ready for the team’s season opener, team manager Lloyd McClendon said Saturday.
The 32-year-old right-hander learned Friday that he must keep a splint on his right middle finger for another three weeks to help heal a sprained tendon, doctors said.
Iwakuma will then need three or four weeks of preparation to be ready to compete, a timetable that would put him back in Seattle’s rotation in mid to late April, a few weeks into the season.
“We’ve got to get him healthy. We can’t rush this thing,” McClendon said in a posting on the team website.
“The doctors have assured us this is the right thing to do so we need to keep working forward with it. I know he is a little disappointed, but it’s the right thing to do for his future.”