Masahiro Tanaka was impressive in his United States debut against the Phillies and so was his countryman Hiroki Kuroda. The two looked very sharp in their first Spring Training outing and hopefully that will carry over into the season. With C.C. Sabathia likely to return as the staff’s ace and Kuroda ready to be the number two again where do you slot Tanaka? Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has said that until Tanaka is comfortable and fully adjusted he’ll man the three spot behind Kuroda and in front of Ivan Nova. But there are some who think that having Tanaka pitch immediately after Kuroda could cause a problem and they may have a good point.
Tanaka and Kuroda have many similarities in their delivery and they both have some of the same pitches in their arsenal. Pitchers in Japan are taught to include a hesitation in their windup and, while it can sometimes throw off a hitter’s timing, having a pitcher with that motion two days in a row could allow an opposing lineup to adjust enough to feel comfortable and the last thing a pitcher wants is a comfortable hitter. The fact that Tanaka’s pitching repertoire mirrors Kuroda in may ways doesn’t help to keep hitters off balance and might force one of the two to make some unnecessary adjustments and the Yankees really don’t want that.
So what is there to do? Well, the answer is not that simple. Some people have speculated about the possibility of dropping Tanaka to the fourth spot in the rotation and moving Ivan Nova into the three spot behind Kuroda. It sounds simple but the Yankees paid a grand total of $175 million dollars on Tanaka and I don’t think they envisioned paying that kind of money to a number four pitcher. Now I know that some people would ague that it won’t matter once players get into the swing of the season and they’d be right. But at the end of the day the Yankees got Tanaka to pitch at the top of the rotation and they’d prefer him to be used in that way.
The Yankees signed Tanaka to a 7-year deal and Kuroda may finally be ready to hang up his cleats for good when the season comes to a close. So it may not be that bad to move Tanaka down for the majority of the year and have Nova behind Kuroda. The move could actually improve the Yankees rotation even more. Nova finished last year with a stunning display on the mound and he’s looking to build on that. If Nova pitches in the fourth spot and can’t regain last year’s second half form the Yankees’ staff would become very top heavy and the last two starters could be a real toss up. Moving Nova could potentially weaken the third spot but overall the rotation’s talent would be more spread out with Tanaka as the number four and either Michael Pineda, David Phelps, or Adam Warren as the number five.
We can speculate all we want but in the end the Yankees have the final call and they’ve made no indication of changing the rotation up. It is correct in saying that in the middle of June the order of the rotation won’t matter. By then the games will have molded together enough to start Tanaka in the ace role without anyone really caring. What really matters is that Masahiro Tanaka has arrived and the supremely talented 25-year-old has already given the Yankees a huge boost on paper. It doesn’t matter wear in the rotation he pitches just as long as he’s on the mound when October rolls around.