TAMPA, FLORIDA – New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka will start for the team on Opening Day for the third year in a row, manager Joe Girardi announced Tuesday.
Should Tanaka take the mound as scheduled when the 2017 Major League Baseball season begins April 2, he will become the first Japanese pitcher to be a starter in a season opener for three straight years in the majors.
Hideo Nomo was also named the Opening Day starter three times, but not in consecutive years. He first earned the honor in 2000 with the Detroit Tigers, and was named again in 2003 and 2004 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“Our plan is for him to be the Opening Day starter,” Girardi said at a news conference. “You’ve got to see where he’s at, but I don’t really see him being not our Opening Day starter unless something was to arise that I wasn’t expecting.”
In the Yankees’ 2015 season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, Tanaka lasted only four innings and took a loss, and in the 2016 season opener against the Houston Astros, he threw 5⅔ innings in a no-decision.
This time around, the 28-year-old former Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace will start for the visiting Yankees in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Last year, Girardi did not confirm Tanaka’s Opening Day assignment until March 31 as, while in Grapefruit League play, he struggled to recover from surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow.
On Tuesday, the day pitchers and catchers reported to George M. Steinbrenner Field, Tanaka prepared for his fourth spring training with the Yankees following a seven-year career in Japan.
In his three years as a Yankee, Tanaka is 39-16 with a 3.12 ERA in 75 starts. He went 14-4 in 31 starts with a 3.07 ERA and MLB career-high 165 strikeouts last season.