Masahiro Tanaka strikes out three in dazzling debut for Yankees

Masahiro Tanaka's much anticipated debut with the New York Yankees lived up to the hype. Pitching in “relief” during their Grapefruit League battle against the Philadelphia Phillies on Saturday, Tanaka entered the game in the fifth inning following New York’s projected No. 1 and No. 2 starters CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda, and proceeded to throw two scoreless innings with three strikeouts.

Tanaka started his afternoon with a flair, throwing two filthy swing-and-miss pitches to Darin Ruf, but an 0-2 fastball down the middle resulted in a soft single to center field. From there, the 25-year-old right-hander settled in nicely and finished his first inning in impressive fashion, retiring the side on two pop ups and his first MLB strikeout on a 3-2 pitch to Cesar Hernandez, all while withholding his signature splitter.

The Phillies weren't so lucky in the second inning, however. Tanaka broke out the splitter to strike out Ben Revere on an 0-2 pitch.

Two batters later, Dominic Brown found himself in a two strike count and likely looked for the same splitter. However, Tanaka changed things up and instead blew him away with a fastball up and in. It was an impressive showcase of the repertoire the Yankees gladly spent $155 million over seven years to acquire.

Overall, Tanaka was pretty much on point for a first appearance in spring training and seemed completely unfazed by the atmosphere. The latter point isn‘t too surprising though considering his experience as an attraction in Japan. The flash bulbs were going off the moment Tanaka entered the ballpark, during his warm up session in the bullpen, all the way through his two innings, but he was able to put his focus on his preparation.

And really, that’s all the day was about for Tanaka anyway. Preparation. Getting a feel for the American style of baseball. Getting used to new hitters. Getting adjusted to the pitching mound. Doing everything he can to make sure he’s ready to hit the ground running in April.

“I understand that there’s going to be a lot of attention on the results, the numbers, that I do out there,” Tanaka said through his interpreter on Friday. “But for me, I’m not looking at it at all. I just want to go out there and first pitch my style and see how it is on the mound.”

So far, so good for Tanaka. But bigger challenges await as the season nears and his transition continues.

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Mark Townsend is a writer for Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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