The so called “Greatest Splitter on Earth” may just be getting better. During a simulated game on Tuesday, Masahiro Tanaka worked to improve his signature pitch in order to ready it for Major League hitters. Tanaka, the Yankees newest phenom from Japan, was impressive in his 4-inning simulated game. He faced 18 batters and struck out nine of them, throwing 49 of his 63 pitchers for strikes. Tanaka was the cream of the crop in Japan but now has the task of adjusting to pitching at the pinnacle of baseball. The baseball in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league is slightly smaller than the ball over here in the U.S. and that can effect how Tanaka’s famed splitter comes out of his hands. After dazzling in his Spring Training debut, baseball was raving about the massive bite on the pitch and all signs looked great for the Yankees’ new 25-year old pitcher. In his next appearance he admittedly faced some control issues but still looked as good as his billing. But Tanaka is a perfectionist and said that he thought he pitched horrible despite only allowing one run.
You know and I know that a simulated game counts about as much as if he had pitched in a T-ball game, but it allowed Tanaka to get more of a feel for his pitches without a million eyes watching his slightest twitch. It’s not easy to make the transition from Japan to the U.S. There are no Miguel Cabreras or David Ortizs in the NPB and over there a huge mistake could lead to only a base hit when here it could lead to a long ball. It’s because of this that Tanaka needs to feel confident with his control when throwing his splitter.
“Obviously this was different from a real game. I took it as part of a practice to work on things I needed to work on — the splitter, location of my fastball and getting first strikes from my curve back.” Tanaka said through a translator.
Along with his splitter, Tanaka’s arsenal of pitches include a four-seam and two-seam fastball, a cutter, curveball, changeup, and a slider. While he doesn’t use his changeup that often it’s still gets some recognition and the Yankees might want him to practice with it more so that he utilizes all seven of his pitches. If he can transform all of his pitches to MLB level he will (Calling it!) be even BETTER than expected.
Tanaka’s next appearance is expected to be Sunday against the Atlanta Braves and hopefully they’ll send out a few of their big players against the up and coming superstar hopeful. If that turns out to be the case, Tanaka will face his biggest test so far as the Braves’ roster includes great hitters in Justin Upton, Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Evan Gattis, and Andrelton Simmons. Hitters like those are high caliber players and should offer Tanaka a worthy challenge and give New York a good look at how he handles such a formidable offensive attack. I suppose Atlanta could just send out their C-List group and leave us all here waiting for the pitcher who went 24-0 last year to face a true big league lineup.
Whatever happens, the Yankees should be absolutely giddy about what they’ve seen so far (It’s yet to be seen if either Brian Cashman or Hal Steinbrenner can actually crack a smile). Tanaka is expected to have some growing pains during the season but that’s why the Yankees gave him a 7-year contract and not a 1-year deal. He’s only 25 and will have plenty of time to shape into a Yu Darvish-type superstar and it’s looking like that’s exactly what everyone is banking on.