A swing and a miss on a fastball low and away. Masahiro Tanaka started his Yankee career on a high note today against the Phillies, and did not look back. Tanaka ended the day throwing two innings, allowing two hits and striking out three.
This was Tanaka’s first time throwing in a game situation for the Yankees. He displayed an array of pitches, he has seven, and showed great command of all of them. His four-seam fastball touched 94 on the gun, and sat between 92 and 93. At one point he struck out three in a row, the last out of the 5th, and the first two outs of the 6th.
We have heard rumblings the Tanaka has showcased well in his start in the spring, both in bullpen sessions and in batting practice with the team. His splitter has translated well to the American game using the MLB regulation baseball. Scouts have said that his splitter is one of the best they have seen.
Normally, even a pitcher with three or four pitches will throw their fastball at least 50-60 percent of the time. However, Tanaka only uses his four-seam fastball 35% of the time. He does a great job varying what he will throw, continually keeping hitters off balance.
Tanaka showed that he is ready for the limelight of New York today. Although only a spring training game, the media was out in full force, and he received a standing ovation from the sellout crowd at George M. Steinbrenner Field.
Looking at Tanaka’s mechanics, he uses a classic Japanese form that is very similar to Hiroki Kuroda’s. While he uses a leg kick mid-pitch, his motion is still very fluid with a solid follow through. The only part of his mechanics that may cause injury later in his career is his arm flow. Traditionally, a pitcher will bring their arm down and around just as they lower their drive leg before catapulting forward. Then, the arm should be ready to come around as their forward leg lands. Tanaka drags his arm a bit then rushes it through his release. While this is a minor critique, it may be something for the Yankees to investigate in bullpen sessions.
Tanaka is quickly silencing any critics he may have entering the 2014 season. Of course, he is a work in progress, but he is adapting very quickly. As I mentioned a month ago, Tanaka could very well be the Yankees ace by 2015 if his game translates here well. For now, we should expect to see him as the Yankees number 2 or 3 starter.