It’s fair to say that after signing a 7-year, $155 million dollar contract, the Yankees newest pitcher, Masahiro Tanaka is going into 2014 with some big expectations. So far in Spring Training he’s looked great. Baseball people have been wowed by his control and tough mindset and many predict that he’ll make good on his monstrous contract. But there is one team that is not too impressed by the 25-year-old Japanese ace. Players on the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees’ inter-division rival, had some strong opinions about the Yankees’ newest weapon.
Tanaka is slated to make his debut in Toronto against the Blue Jays on April 4th. While the Yankees have kept him from pitching against AL East opponents there’s a lot of video from his days in Japan and his Spring Training starts have been widely televised and the press has been here for every move he’s made on the mound. So the mystery of Tanaka is not so much a mystery after all…until you face him. Hitters have described it as “An uncomfortable at-bat”, “As good as advertised”, “Something special”, and from his own teammate Austin Romine, “Umm… What was that?” That’s a lot of high praise from big league hitters and Yankees’ fans are hoping it’s all true. But over in Toronto, there’s a very talented slugger named Jose Bautista who says that he’s not all that impressed.
“I mean, it’s just a different pitcher for me,” said Bautista. “Other than him coming from Japan and having some good seasons over there, I don’t think there’s that much special about it. It’s just another opponent.” The outfielder went on to say that he didn’t really know much about Tanaka, but will be watching tape when the time comes.
So if the man they call “Joey Bats” hasn’t done his homework yet, why is he speaking out against his new rival? Well, Toronto went into last year as favorites to win the AL East but ended up dead last in baseball’s strongest division. So with the Yankees adding a lot of muscle this past off-season. is the face of the Blue Jays trying to keep the team relevant? That could be the case but let’s not jump to conclusions. The more reasonable explanation is that Bautista and his teammates do not want to add even more confidence to the Yankees who are very excited about Tanaka’s shockingly smooth transition to the big leagues.
Toronto’s second baseman Ryan Goins had other things to say. “You’re going to have to face him at some point. Might as well see him early, see what he’s got. But from everything you’ve heard, he’s a really good pitcher.”
That’s a more neutral statement than Bautista’s and it’s a fair one at that. The Blue Jays are going to be the first team in the division to face Tanaka and that gives them a leg up on the competition. After last season, the Jays could really use it.
Then there’s the team’s superstar first baseman, Edwin Encarnacion, who took more of a business standpoint to Tanaka’s emergence in the U.S. ” There’s going to be a lot of Japanese people in the stadium,” he said. “And in Japan they’ll be watching, too. So I would like to face a Japanese pitcher.” Japanese media: Good for New York, good for Canada, good for the Encarnacion brand.
Right now it doesn’t matter what players say. Tanaka looks fantastic and Yankees’ fans are very excited to see him play in a regular season game. Bautista is just adding something new to a Yankees-Blue Jays series that is always fun to watch. It may be a game between two teams in the same division, but odds are that more than just Blue Jays and Yankees’ fans will be tuning in when April 4th rolls around.