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. Alex Faedo, Florida advance to face LSU in College World Series finals


    OMAHA, Neb. — Alex Faedo pitched three-hit ball for 71/3 innings in a second straight strong performance against TCU, and Florida moved to the College World Series finals with a 3-0 win Saturday night.

    Florida’s Austin Langworthy scores on a single by Mike Rivera in the second inning during a 3-0 victory over TCU.
  2. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  3. Rays journal: Jumbo Diaz falters after getting within a strike of ending rally

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday's game got away starting with a leadoff walk in the seventh inning by Rays LHP Jose Alvarado, who was brought in exclusively to face Baltimore's lefty-swinging Seth Smith.

    Rays reliever Jumbo Diaz wipes his face as he walks off the mound after the Orioles score four during the seventh inning to give them a 7-3 lead. Diaz was one strike away from working out of the jam before he allowed a two-run double and a two-run homer on back-to-back pitches.
  4. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  5. Roger Mooney's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    It was refreshing to see RHP Jacob Faria take the blame after the loss even though he gave the Rays a chance to win. Too often young pitchers are encouraged by what they did and not necessarily the outcome, but Faria, making just his fourth big-league start, came to the Trop to win, didn't, and pointed the finger …