What does $175 million dollars buy a big league baseball team these days? If you’re the New York Yankees, you’re hoping a vital piece of what you hope will be a World Series-caliber starting rotation. This massive amount bought the Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka, and with it, media scrutiny on a global scale, criticism from opposing players, and the expectations of being a staff savior. That is the weight that Masahiro Tanaka carries with him into the Rogers Centre tonight in Toronto, ON as the Yankees open a weekend series with their AL East rival Blue Jays.
Tanaka had a phenomenal first spring in pinstripes, and now it’s time to find out if initial spring success translates to regular season dominance as well. Even Yankees’ skipper Joe Girardi is excited to see what Tanaka can do against regular big league hitters:
We’ve seen him in spring training. You also want to see what a guy is like when the real bright lights turn on. We expect him to do fine, but you still want to see it.
Both teammates and opposing hitters are impressed with his split-finger fastball, but there is concern of an overpowering fastball to blow past hitters when push comes to shove. The Yankees are hoping that Tanaka’s good spring, unlike staff mate C.C. Sabathia, translates to immediate regular season success. The intense media coverage that has followed him everywhere he’s gone, hasn’t seemed to phase Tanaka in the least:
I’m sure I will be amped up a little bit, but not to the point where I’m worried about that. I’m honored to get this sort of attention, but for me, I’m just trying to get outs.
Another factor that the Yankees believe will work in Tanaka’s favor as he becomes accustomed to life in the major leagues, is his close work with catcher Brian McCann. He sat last night in the Astros’ series finale in preparation for Tanaka’s debut tonight. McCann is confident that Tanaka will be mentally ready to take on the best that the league has to offer:
He’s pitched in big games in Japan basically since he was 16, 17 years old…From the first time you meet him, he carries himself very professionally. He came into camp and fit right in.
Ready or not, the debut of Tanaka Time should be something that Yankees’ fans, and baseball fans around the globe should enjoy throughout his rookie campaign.