For all of the hype surrounding New York Yankees‘ starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, it seems as if we have hardly had a chance to see him in game action this spring. Baseball fans were able to get another look at Tanaka when he took the mound for the third time on Sunday as the starter in Sunday’s 7-4 win against the Atlanta Braves.
It’s very obvious that the Yankees have a specific plan of action in regards to Tanaka’s usage as he gets accustomed to pitching in the United States. After going two innings in his first outing on March 6, followed by three innings in his second outing on March-16, Tanaka pitched 4.1 innings on Sunday — and pitched very well doing so.
Pitching against a lineup consisting of numerous Braves regulars, Tanaka struck out six while only allowing one run in the process. While all of his six strikeouts were impressive, two in particular stood out to me in this outing.
After retiring five of the first six batters he faced in the game, Tanaka ran into a little trouble in the top of the third inning. Tanaka would get a quick out to begin the inning, but after he gave up a one out single followed by walking a batter and seemed to be in a bit of trouble. Unfazed by the situation, Tanaka would promptly strike out the following two batters to end the inning.
While that might not seem like a big deal to some, I feel it was huge. Playing in what might be the most offensively talented division in the MLB, Tanaka is going to have his share of innings with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, so to seen him battle back and get the next two outs without a hitter putting the ball in play speaks volumes not only about his physical talent but his mental toughness as well.
There might not be a pitcher in all of baseball that will have more eyes on him this season than Tanaka. He’s in a new country, dealing with a language barrier, change in workload process, new hitters, new ballparks, intense media obligations — heck — even the size of the ball is different over here.
With that said, Tanaka is going to have to be mentally prepared start in and start out for all of the above, and so far this spring he has done a great job in handling it all.
He has shown legitimate talent all spring long but in my opinion he taught us more about himself as a pitcher on Sunday then he has since he’s arrived in New York. The lesson I learned is that the Yankees might have something special on their hands with Tanaka and I’m sure after Sunday’s outing the Braves probably feel the same way.