One turn through the Blue Jays order, Masahiro Tanaka’s debut was a mess. His third pitch of the game had been crushed to center field, then he’d allowed a series of singles — and not been able to pitch around an error — for two more runs in the second inning. Even the Blue Jays No. 9 hitter had driven in a couple of runs off him.
“I was nervous before going into the game,” Tanaka admitted. “Once I was up on the mound, I felt that I really couldn’t get into the game. I really couldn’t focus myself into the game at the beginning.”
Was that the first indication that perhaps the intense attention really had won on him? Joe Giradri said he’d never seen so many reporters on the field for a pregame stretch, and the line of television cameras in place to document his arrival at the ballpark was incredible. Tanaka has appeared calm and cool throughout this process, but through those first nine innings, he looked rattled and infinitely beatable.
Until suddenly he was neither of those things.
Of the next 18 batters Tanaka faced — this second and third turns through the lineup — only two reached base.
“Part of it is adrenaline, part of it’s the rhythm of the game,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “The first night, opening night, if you’re on the road, it’s hard to gauge when to get ready cause there’s a lot of stuff going on on the field. More stuff than you’re normally used to dealing with. I think most guys are into routines and it can upset the cart a little bit, but he balanced himself well. He did a good job.”
Tanaka said he started throwing more fastballs in the later innings, but Rothschild pointed to the fact he simply stopped trying to do too much with his offspeed pitches. The Melky Cabrera home run came on a split-finger, but Tanaka didn’t abandon the pitch. Rothschild said Tanaka’s breaking pitches weren’t as consistent as they’d been in spring training, but he found ways to use them.
“I thought he did a lot of good things tonight and passed some tests that you hoped he wouldn’t go through early, but he did,” Rothschild said. “And it was a good night for him.”
How would Tanaka describe his emotions now that his much-anticipated debut is in the books?
“Obviously I’m happy,” he said. “I think number one is that I’m relieved.”
“Not great, but I’m not really sure exactly. We’ll see how it feels in the morning, but I’m not super optimistic about it. … I was going after a ball down the line, I knew it was going to be foul, but I went and caught it anyway. I just took an awkward step, and when I landed, I felt a grab in my hamstring. IT wasn’t one of those excruciating, fall-to-the-ground because of the pain, but it was significant enough that I knew something was wrong.”
While Joe Girardi said Teixeira would go for a test on Monday if the Yankees decided it was necessary. Teixeira was more definitive, saying he expects to have an MRI when he gets back to New York. For now, it’s extremely safe to say he won’t play the rest of the weekend, and it seems a safe bet — though not a sure thing — that he’ll go on the disabled list before the end of this series. Teixeira said he doesn’t think it’s as bad as when he hurt his hamstring in the 2010 playoffs, but he clearly doesn’t think it’s a good situation.
“It kind of leaves you scrambling a little bit,” Girardi said. “I told you about today before the game started, my concern was fatigue for guys. We don’t ever know why a guy gets hurt, but I was concerned about tonight.”
· Huge game for Jacoby Ellsbury who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, two runs, two stolen bases, a walk and a terrific catch in center field. His first-inning double was his first hit with the Yankees. “The first few games, I felt pretty good as well,” he said. “But it’s nice to get some results.”
· Speaking of results, Yangervis Solarte has a hit in five of his last eight plate appearances. He doubled twice tonight and drove in three runs. “He’s stepped in and done a really good job,” Girardi said. “We saw it in spring training. We did. But you never know what’s going to happen when the second and third deck get out there and the bright lights turn on and you’re in a big league game, but he has picked up right where he ended in spring training. His at-bats were great all spring training, and they’ve just continued. Am I a little surprised? Yeah. It’s a big adjustment.”
· Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he left Dustin McGowan in the game to face Solarte in the third partially because it was a young hitter and he figured McGowan — who was clearly already laboring — might be able to get through the inning. The Blue Jays had a left-handed reliever ready. “You’ve got a young, inexperienced hitter up there and he burned us,” Gibbons said. “… We don’t know much about the young hitter, so I tip my hat to him. He came through for them. It wasn’t like it was Beltran, so you’re hoping we can get him. The kid had a nice game tonight and had a nice game yesterday. I don’t know where he came from, but he’s a pretty good little player.”
· Girardi was planning to start Kelly Johnson at first base tomorrow anyway, but he said it’s now “really safe” to assume Johnson will be there on Saturday. Could be there through the rest of the weekend (and beyond, I assume). “I’m going to get more comfortable as I play more over there, just like anything,” Johnson said. “Not too bad. It’s a lot more similar to third than it is to second. Getting over there at third and getting to first is not too bad.”
· Assuming the Yankees are planning to put Teixeira on the 15-day disabled list tomorrow, it’s worth noting that the other position players on the 40-man are J.R. Murphy, Austin Romine, Gary Sanchez, Zoilo Almonte, Ramon Flores and Slade Heathcott. Sanchez is in Double-A, Heathcott isn’t playing in games yet, and Flores would be redundant as a left-handed outfielder. That likely leaves either Murphy, Romine or Almonte unless the Yankees want to make an additional move to open another 40-man spot. A right-handed hitter would seem to fit the best. Russ Canzler is the regular first baseman in Triple-A. Scott Sizemore? Zelous Wheeler? Adonis Garcia?
· If you’re wondering about Eduardo Nunez — My understanding of a player who’s been DFA is that he would have to clear waivers before his original team would be able to do anything with him. I don’t think he’s an immediate possibility in this situation.
· Rothschild said that Tanaka giving up the home run on his first split of the game might have had something to do with the long top of the first inning. “It just was up,” Rothschild said. “It was the first one he threw. There was a long time between warming up. We had a long first inning. He generally doesn’t warm up with it when he goes out to the mound to start the game. It had been a long time since he’d thrown one. It just got away from him.”
· Tonight was Tanaka’s 100th professional win. That’s pretty cool.
· It was mentioned during Gibbons’ postgame press conference that McGowan might have been tipping his pitches early. Gibbons said his pitching coach noticed that and thought it could be an issue.
· The Yankees were successful on their first replay challenge of the season, and it directly led to a run. “I thought it worked well,” Girardi asid. “Obviously the second challenge that I had, we knew that it was sketchy (whether) we would win that challenge, but because it was beyond the sixth inning, it makes no sense to keep it because we can’t carry it over to the next day, so we took a shot on the second one. We were positive on the first one, but the second one we were not. Because of the time of the game, that’s why we used it.”
· Won’t happen often, but I’m actually giving the final word to the opposing manager tonight. Gibbons was asked for his first impression of Tanaka. “He’s the real deal,” Gibbons said. “He was tough. He made a few mistakes and we capitalized on them, but those are balls you have to hit. He’s strong, he stayed in the game and when they gave him the lead back, he kicked it in. He can keep you off-balance. He’s definitely the real deal.”
Associated Press photos