Anticipation has followed Masahiro Tanaka throughout the entire offseason.
First it centered on when the Rakuten Golden Eagles would formally be permitted to post him, as details relating to the new posting process needed to be finalized. Once that was accomplished and we learned that the posting fee could not exceed $20 Million, the attention shifted to which team would the right-hander choose to sign with and what that contract would look like. Upon hearing that he’d chosen the New York Yankees, the focus turned to when would we first see him donning the legendary pinstripes.
Tanaka will make his highly anticipated Spring Training debut later this afternoon for the Yankees (1:05 PM EST on MLB Network). MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch reports that he’s scheduled to enter the game in the 5th inning against the Philadelphia Phillies. Hoch doesn’t note how many pitches Tanaka will be permitted to throw. At this stage in Spring Training it’s highly uncommon for any pitcher to throw more than an inning or two at most.
“I understand there’s going to be a lot of attention on the results, the numbers of what I do out there,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “But for me, I’m not looking at it at all. I just want to go out there and pitch my style our there and see how it is on the mound.”
Joining an uncertain starting rotation alongside CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda (who will each throw two innings in today’s game before Tanaka enters), there are high expectations being placed on the high-priced Japanese import who was the biggest prize available this past winter in the eyes of many. Tanaka enjoyed a heralded career in Japan, including a historic 2013 season in which he just simply dominated the opposition en route to a 24-0 record, 1.47 ERA, and 0.943 WHIP across 212.0 IP. Now 25, New York made a significant investment in Tanaka with the seven year, $155 Million deal that they gave him. Successes and failures are already magnified in New York, but they become even larger with an international focus in play.
New York is no stranger to employing highly regarded Japanese stars in their lineup. Hideki Matsui enjoyed a highly successful career in New York (and was part of the team’s contingent that went to speak with Tanaka about his interest in joining the organization) and is viewed as a legend in Japan. As is Ichiro Suzuki, who’ll figure into the Yankees outfield mix despite being at the tail end of his own historic career.
Tanaka will be facing plenty of pressure playing in New York, but he signed there knowing that was part of being a Yankee. His Spring Training debut will attract attention across the globe, but that will still pale in comparison to his eventual regular season debut in early April.
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