From Japan to the United States and then straight up to… Canada? So seems to be the destiny for the Yankees newest pitching weapon, Masahiro Tanaka. After facing his most formidable opponent to date in the Atlanta Braves baseball was once again buzzing about his lightning stuff. He struck out 6 in 4.1 innings, allowing only one run on three hits. In his first three appearances Tanaka has looked as good as advertised and the Yankees could be in for a really special season with him in on staff. But, just where on the staff will Tanaka be throwing? Well, after general manager Brian Cashman said, “We see him as a solid number three starter” we all knew that was temporary as the Yankees are banking on him to be the ace of the future. But now it seems more and more likely that Tanaka will make his first start as the fourth starter and it has nothing to do with Tanaka’s ability.
Pitchers in Japan do not throw in the normal Major League Baseball 5-man rotation. Instead each pitcher makes a start once every 6 or 7 days and that could to turn into a tough transition for the 25-year-old Tanaka. So to try and ease him into his new schedule, the Yankees may push his first start back to April 4th against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Tanaka’s transition may not be so hard because pitchers in Japan usually finish their own games and in doing so, rack up extremely high pitch counts. In the U.S., as we know, if a pitcher gets in trouble or their pitch counts get too high, they get yanked and a reliever comes in. So even though he’s starting games more often, he may be able to stay fresh by not doing something like… throw 160 pitches like he did in the Nippon Professional Baseball championship.
Tanaka’s comfort is not the only thing that is being considered when setting up the rotation. His former countryman, Hiroki Kuroda is presumably slated to be the rotation’s number two starter and a side-by-side comparison of he and Tanaka may be a little too similar. Since coming over to the Yankees the team has sped up his delivery and it bears a very striking resemblance to Tanaka’s motion and having the two pitch one after the other may give opposing hitters a sense of comfort that is really to be avoided. On top of this, the two throw some of the same pitches and that is also something that you don’t want hitters getting used to. Joe Girardi will have to consider when settling on a pitching staff.
By the time mid-May rolls around, the pitching rotation will have melded together and no one will really care who is pitching in what spot. Who knows what will happen come September? Tanaka could find himself as the ace and Kuroda could be the number three starter. For now we don’t know and we all should be excited for how Tanaka and others look and get ready for what should hopefully be a very special season in the Bronx.