Tanaka's poise apparent leading up to debut
TORONTO -- Masahiro Tanaka sat in a folding chair in front of his assigned locker in the visiting clubhouse at Rogers Centre on Friday afternoon, adjusting his uniform while wearing a placid expression across his face.
If the 25-year-old right-hander was feeling any jitters in the hours leading up to his globally televised Major League debut, it certainly didn't show. The Yankees have been encouraged by Tanaka's cool demeanor, which they take as a sign that he is ready for this challenge.
Asked what has impressed him most about Tanaka, Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that it has been "the way he's adapted to what we've asked him to do, whether it's been his schedule or his side work; getting used to the American baseball culture over here."
Tanaka signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees in January, but he has been a star in Japan since his high school days. A bright spotlight is nothing new for Tanaka, who has showed no signs of being rattled.
"I'll watch it, but I don't think it'll be a problem at all," said Brian McCann, who is catching Tanaka's debut. "He's pitched some big things over in Japan -- basically since he's been 16, 17 years old. I expect [this] to be no different."
Girardi said that the biggest adjustment that Tanaka will be challenged to handle is bouncing back to pitch every five days, instead of every seven days in Japan. The Yankees will watch Tanaka for signs of fatigue during the season, and Girardi said that he is allowing his starters to get up to around 100 pitches in their first starts.
Tanaka could later extend to 110-115 pitches, but certainly will stay well under the 160 pitches he fired in the penultimate game of last year's Japan Series for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Girardi said that he believes having veteran Japanese right-hander Hiroki Kuroda on the staff has eased Tanaka's assimilation into the Yanks' clubhouse.
"Part of me feels that having Kuroda helps, because he's someone who went through that transition, and it has worked well for him," Girardi said. "Sometimes when you see that with someone that maybe you looked up to or followed when you were younger, you're saying, 'If it worked for him, it can work for me.'"