Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Masahiro Tanaka learns to live under Yankees microscope

Whether Masahiro Tanaka is throwing a bullpen session on a back field, playing catch or jogging laps, hordes of media chronicle — and dissect — each second of these mundane spring training activities.

AP photo

Whether Masahiro Tanaka is throwing a bullpen session on a back field, playing catch or jogging laps, hordes of media chronicle — and dissect — each second of these mundane spring training activities.


From the moment Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka arrived on American soil last month, nearly every move has been under the microscope.

There was his extravagant entrance, chartering a Boeing 787 Dreamliner — costing around $200,000 — to bring himself, his pop-singing wife and toy poodle from Japan to New York. Then came the mega news conference at Yankee Stadium, with 200-plus members of the media and a worldwide audience watching the 25-year-old put on his pinstripes for the first time.

"This is Yankees big," general manager Brian Cashman would say. "This is Steinbrenner big. It would make 'The Boss' proud."

Tanaka, signed to a seven-year, $155 million deal, has garnered the type of attention that the late George Steinbrenner craved. Whether Tanaka is throwing a bullpen session on a back field, playing catch or jogging laps, hordes of media chronicle — and dissect — each second of these mundane spring training activities. Cameras click. Fans, lining the fence, yell his name.

You see, for the nearly half-billion the Yankees spent this offseason, acquiring the likes of Brian McCann, Carlos Beltran and Jacoby Ellsbury, the Bronx's man of mystery is Tanaka, who hasn't thrown a big-league pitch but may be a key to their rotation.

So far, McCann says Tanaka has been "as good as advertised."

"The only thing I've seen is paint, paint, paint — this guy has command of everything he's throwing," said David Wells, a former Yankees starter who is a spring training instructor. "He seems really comfortable. He doesn't look nervous. He doesn't look intimidated by anything.

"It's like he's been here for a long time."

Tanaka pitched on the big stage in Japan and was nearly perfect for the Rakuten Eagles last season, going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and leading the club to a Japan Series championship. Known as a bulldog on the mound, Tanaka threw a 160-pitch complete game in Game 6 then tossed 15 pitches in relief the next day.

Tanaka, at 6 feet 2, 201 pounds, is not as powerful as the Rangers' 6-5 righty Yu Darvish but can hit 90-96 mph, with manager Joe Girardi saying he can "turn it up a notch" when he needs it. Tanaka also has two- and four-seam fastballs, slider, changeup and curve. But it's his split-finger that some consider one of the best in the world, a pitch that McCann says "drops off the table," disguised by a delivery similar to his fastball. "I've never seen a ball move like that before," catcher Austin Romine said.

Tanaka was the pitching prize of the offseason, with several teams paying Rakuten the $20 million posting fee and bidding for his services. Tanaka picked the prestige, and pressure, of the Yankees.

"The New York Yankees are rich in tradition, rich in history, and the team is always asked to win the World Series every single year," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "So I wanted to put myself in that type of environment and play baseball."

Whether Tanaka can thrive in that environment, especially in the American League East, remains to be seen. There are many adjustments he has to make, such as pitching with a bigger baseball than in Japan, starting on five days' rest instead of once a week and getting acclimated to life in America, from the culture, food and language.

"Everything is new to me," Tanaka said. "But little by little, I'm getting used to it."

The Yankees, having scouted Tanaka for several years, are confident, which is why they gave him the fifth-largest contract for a pitcher in major-league history. Tanaka won't have to be the ace, likely following CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda in the rotation. He has a support staff in place, including an interpreter, with Kuroda serving as an unofficial mentor and catch partner.

"He told me, 'Just be yourself. Try not to do too much, do your own pace, and you should be okay,' " Tanaka said of Kuroda.

Tanaka escapes the cameras when he leaves Steinbrenner Field and relaxes at his Tampa apartment. His wife, Mai Satoda, is a good cook, and his 2-year-old dog, Haru, keeps him on his toes.

"Its personality is more like a cat," Tanaka said, laughing. "It's very spontaneous."

Tanaka has taken up golf in his spare time. Though judging by his last score, 96, he's not a finished product.

Tanaka smiled: "I'm working on that right now."

At least on the golf course, there'll be fewer people watching.

Times staff writer Joe Smith can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TBTimes_JSmith.

Masahiro Tanaka learns to live under Yankees microscope 02/24/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 24, 2014 10:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays journal: Archer has strong outing, with two mistakes

    The Heater

    TORONTO — Two pitches RHP Chris Archer didn't execute are the ones that stood out Thursday as Josh Donaldson hit them out of the park. But the two solo home runs aside, Archer turned in a sterling outing that went atop the pile of good pitching the Rays keep wasting.

    Rays starting pitcher Chris Archer (22) works during the first inning. [Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP]
  2. Tim Tebow continues wowing fans as he wraps up bay area games


    CLEARWATER — Tracey Fritzinger has seen Tim Tebow play baseball a few times this year. The 40-year-old St. Petersburg resident went to two of his games against the Tampa Yankees, along with Joy, her little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.

    St. Lucie Mets outfielder Tim Tebow, middle, hangs out in the dugout during the first inning of Thursday night’s game against the Clearwater Threshers at Spectrum Field.
  3. Rays vs. Mariners, 7:10 Friday, Tropicana Field

    The Heater

    Tonight: vs. Mariners

    7:10, Tropicana Field

    TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun, 620-AM, 680-AM (Spanish)

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Austin Pruitt (50) in the dugout during the ninth inning of the game between the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays on Opening Day at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, April 2, 2017. The Tampa Bay Rays beat the New York Yankees 7-3.
  4. Rays waste repeated opportunities in 5-3 loss to Blue Jays

    The Heater

    TORONTO — Rays manager Kevin Cash made a case for urgency before Thursday's game, in both actions and words, making significant changes to the structure of the lineup and sincere comments about time running short.

    Trevor Plouffe of the Rays reacts as he pops out with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. [Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images]
  5. Confederate statue: Why Bucs, Lightning, Rays took a stand


    They didn't want another Charlottesville.

    Marc Rodriguez, a member of the "Florida Fight for $15" organization, stands in protest along with other activists demanding the Confederate  monument be removed from the old Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]