One of the Yankees most prized acquisitions this off-season is about to make his spring training debut. Masahiro Tanaka will take the mound for the Bronx Bombers this Saturday against the Philadelphia Phillies. The Yankees signed Tanaka this off-season to a 7-year deal worth $155 million dollars plus a $20 million dollar posting fee to his Japanese team. Yankees manager Joe Girardi stated that Tanaka along with CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda will work two innings with a maximum of 35 pitches. This will for sure turn into a media frenzy due to reporters from not just the United States, but Japan as well.
At age 25, Tanaka is around the same age as Texas Rangers standout pitcher Yu Darvish when he decided to play in the MLB. Both were also considered the top pitchers in Japan prior to their arrival. Darvish played for a team known as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters while Tanaka played for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. In his final season in Japan, Darvish was 18-6 with a dominating 1.44 ERA while Tanaka finished with a record of 24-0 and a 1.27 ERA.
The stats might look similar, but both of these two pitchers styles are not. Darvish has the overpowering 94 to 97 MPH fastball with a wicked slider, while Tanaka has an average fastball of 90 to 92 MPH with a deceiving splitter. Do not be deceived by the low velocity of Tanaka though. According the Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild, “He showed tenacity on the mound.”
Tanaka is capable of becoming the next Darvish, not with his overpowering stuff, but with his competitive nature. There is a reason why he was 24-0 in his final year in Japan and why he chose the Yankees over many other clubs. It’s because he wants to win. Darvish chose the Rangers for the same reason. Now the Rangers are World Series contenders each year.
It seems as though a rivalry has been formed between Tanaka and Darvish. Last week during a press conference Darvish was asked about Tanaka and the growing population of Japanese players in the MLB. Darvish responded by mentioning Yankees’ pitcher Hiroki Kuroda and Seattle Mariners‘ pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma. He only referred to Tanaka’s name by saying the Yankees paid him too much money and that Tanaka’s teammate Kuroda looks better than him. Of course these were both jokes, but is Darvish maybe a little jealous of Tanaka?
The Yankees will be happy if Tanaka can provide similar numbers to Yu Darvish‘s first year in the majors. Rangers manager Ron Washington stated before Darvish’s first outing of spring training, “I’m not looking for results because I know he is going to give you results”. The Yankees hope Washington’s line of thinking is the same with Tanaka.