His spring debut is not exactly going to replicate a playoff game at Yankee Stadium, but it will be his closest thing to real game since closing out the Japanese championship series in early November.
“Curious (to) see how he does,” manager Joe Girardi said. “His first outing, hopefully he keeps his emotions in check and that’s what you worry about a little bit, trying to do too much. Players a lot of times want to try to validate contracts. I’ve always said, (for) Japanese-born players I think there’s a certain amount of pride that they feel that they’re pitching for their whole country sometimes and that can be a little much.”
To his credit, though, Tanaka seems unaffected by all of the attention and expectation. Perhaps it’s all a facade — certainly there’s a language and cultural barrier that makes it hard for me or any American writer to have a great sense of what’s going on in his head — but all around him seem to have been impressed by Tanaka’s demeanor this spring.
Asked today if he is curious about his own debut, Tanaka gave a one-word answer that needed no translation: “Mucho.”
“I understand there’s going to be a lot of attention on the results, the numbers of what I do out there,” Tanaka said. “But for me, I’m not looking at it at all. I just want to go out there and pitch my style out there and see how it is on the mound. … Just want to go out there and pitch tomorrow what the catcher requests and see how things are.”
The Yankees have not asked that Tanaka significantly alter his pitching plan. They want to see how he does against major-league hitters and adjust from there. If his approach from Japan carries over with positive results, then there will be no need to fix something that’s not broken. His split-finger, in particular, has become a curiosity.
“I think you have to watch how hitters react in a sense once we get to games, but it has been an out-pitch for him,” Girardi said. “It has been really effective in Japan. His slider has also been really effective. But I think you have to see once he starts to face hitters and they see it a second and third time how they react to it. But I’ve got to tell you, I like it, and I saw how hitters reacted over there and it was a really good pitch for him.”
Associated Press photo