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Tanaka arrives, weighs in on Cole, Astros

@BryanHoch
February 10, 2020

TAMPA, Fla. -- Masahiro Tanaka was in Japan when news of Gerrit Cole’s record-setting nine-year, $324 million contract filtered out of the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Those feverish updates bounced across continents and quickly reached the hurler, who began to fantasize about how the Yankees’ rotation figured to improve

TAMPA, Fla. -- Masahiro Tanaka was in Japan when news of Gerrit Cole’s record-setting nine-year, $324 million contract filtered out of the Winter Meetings in San Diego. Those feverish updates bounced across continents and quickly reached the hurler, who began to fantasize about how the Yankees’ rotation figured to improve in 2020 and beyond.

“Absolutely awesome. I thought it was awesome,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “Definitely a huge plus for the team. I think it’ll be a big plus for me as well, just being able to see a pitcher of that caliber closely, see what he does, how he goes about his stuff. I think I will benefit from that as well.”

The 31-year-old Tanaka reported for his seventh Spring Training with the Yankees on Monday, saying that he expects to have “no restrictions at all” following arthroscopic surgery to remove a bone spur in his pitching elbow. Tanaka said that he rehabbed for about a month in Japan and that he was on approximately the same offseason throwing and workout programs as in years past.

That procedure took place shortly after the Yanks’ elimination in the American League Championship Series at the hands of the Astros, and when Major League Baseball announced its discipline of the Houston organization for using electronic devices to steal signs, Tanaka was not surprised.

“We were actually being cautious about it going into the playoff games last year, just changing up the signs, making it a little more complex and all that,” Tanaka said. “There was a little bit of thought of, 'Was there something going on?' And once you hear the news, it’s like, ‘Oh, there was something going on.’”

Tanaka was speaking specifically about his efforts against the Astros in the 2019 ALCS, when he hurled six scoreless innings of one-hit ball in a Game 1 victory at Minute Maid Park, then took the Game 4 loss after allowing four runs (three earned) over five innings at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees also saw their 2017 season end in Houston, and when asked about former teammate CC Sabathia’s stated opinion that the Astros’ activities “cheated” the Yanks out of a World Series appearance, Tanaka said that he agreed.

“I do feel that way,” Tanaka said. “You never know what would have happened, but at the same time, you can say that [the Astros’ 2017 win] might not have happened. It’s kind of difficult to say.”

Yankees pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to George M. Steinbrenner Field on Wednesday, and Tanaka said that he has already started to communicate with new pitching coach Matt Blake, who was hired in November to replace Larry Rothschild.

“I’m looking forward to it, actually,” Tanaka said. “You always learn something new from somebody new. I think there’s opportunity here with Matt, so I’m really looking forward to working with him.”

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and Facebook.