First big league start? Check.
First start at Yankee Stadium? Check.
First start in front of a hostile crowd at Fenway? Check.
Masahiro Tanaka has aced every test through his first four starts as a Yankee, and tonight will provide another with a nationally televised game against a Los Angeles Angels’ lineup that has a few big names in the middle. But less than a month into his major league career, Tanaka has already established an expectation of dominance.
“You expect him to really go out and compete and give you a good chance to win,” Joe Girardi said.
Tanaka has downplayed his early successes and seemed to shrug off questions about facing stars such as Mike Trout and Albert Pujols. As I wrote this morning, he just has this quiet confidence that he carries himself with and he doesn’t seem to be fazed by any situation.
It has certainly caught the attention of his manager.
“You wonder how a pitcher is going to adapt to the culture, and (pitching) every fifth day, and all new teammates, and New York City, and the American League East,” Girardi said. “He’s seemed to make it pretty seamless from everything that I’ve seen, and that’s a little surprising. I’ve seen it where you bring any free agent here, whether they know the culture or they’ve pitched every fifth day or played every day, so that has been a little surprising to me.”
• While Tanaka acted as if he had barely heard of some of the top players that he’ll face tonight, Girardi is sure that he’s aware of what they’re capable of. “I think he knows how good of players they are,” Girardi said. “I think that he probably knew how good they were before he even came to this country, because obviously when you’re a baseball player, you pay attention to all baseball players. I’m sure he was pretty aware of who Trout was and who Albert Pujols was. But the one thing that he doesn’t know is how they’re going to react to his pitches, and it kind of goes both ways. We don’t know how they’re going to react, and vice versa.”
• So far, the reactions that Tanaka has been getting have overwhelmingly positive. He’s struck out 35 while only walking two in 29 1/3 innings, and his swing-and-miss percentage is off the charts. He can locate several pitches, doesn’t seem to show any intimidation, and that split looks as nasty as it was advertised to be. CC Sabathia spoke about Tanaka, and how he’s benefited from facing hitters who have never seen him. “I think he has an advantage in that,” CC said. “They haven’t seen him. It’s all on video, and that fastball moves a lot quicker in person.”
• Girardi also spoke about how much of an advantage that has been for Tanaka. “You can watch video, and you can say that a guy throws 92 to 94, or his curveball does this, his split does this – but until you actually see it, 92 to 94 can look like 90, or it can look like 98,” he said. “A lot of times, it’s the deception and how well they hide the ball, and if you pick it up or you see something. Some guys you just see better than others, too. I think that scouting reports are great, video is great, but until you step into the box, you’re really not sure how you’re going to react to it and how you’re going to see it. To me, a lot of times that’s the advantage.”
• Brett Gardner is out of the lineup today after being hit by a pitch yesterday. It sounds like he’ll be fine, but Ichiro will get the start in left tonight. “He’s sore from yesterday getting hit,” Girardi said. “Obviously, he had X-rays and those came back negative. He’ll go through treatment today and see if he’s available to me later on. He did talk about how it felt better than he anticipated this morning, which was a good thing, but he’s still sore.”
• Yangervis Solarte will start at second with Kelly Johnson at third, as Solarte has clearly become the guy that Girardi is most comfortable moving around. With Solarte playing a strong defensive third base and Johnson having played most of his big league career at second, you might think that alignment would make more sense, but Girardi said that Solarte played more second in the minors than anywhere else. “That’s what you want out of a utility-type player; that they can move around and not just play one position, and they’re used to doing it,” he said. “And he’s done it in the minor leagues, which probably helps him and has helped him make the transition of going to third, or if we put him at short or second. He’s played all of those positions in the minor leagues. It’s something that he’s used to doing.”
• Michael Pineda threw a bullpen today, and Girardi said they’ll put together some type of sim game for him this week to keep him stretched out and sharp. He also downplayed any concerns about how Pineda might pitch in a cold weather situation moving forward without being able to use pine tar. “We’re trying to take every precaution to keep him sharp,” Girardi said. “He threw a bullpen today. He’ll throw Tuesday in a simulated game somewhere. We’ll get him to where he sees live hitters somewhere, and then he’ll be ready to go on Monday like he’s getting an extra days rest. And he’ll throw bullpens here. He’ll probably throw a bullpen on Friday.”
• Brendan Ryan was scheduled to play a game in Tampa today, but Girardi didn’t have any information on how he came out of it.
• As Chad reported this morning, Bruce Billings was put on the 15-day DL with a strained right forearm and Preston Claiborne was recalled from Triple-A.
UPDATE, 6:42 p.m.: It was just announced that Solarte has been scratched with a sore right shoulder. Brian Roberts will take over at second base and bat eighth.
Associated Press photos