Workload may be Tanaka's top challenge, manager says

Larry Fine

By Larry Fine

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Pitching more frequently may be New York Yankees' new $155 million-man Masahiro Tanaka's biggest adjustment as he makes the transition from Japanese baseball to the major leagues, Yankees manager Joe Girardi says.

Pitchers routinely take the mound once a week in the Japanese professional league rather than in a five-day rotation in Major League Baseball.

"I think the biggest adjustment is probably throwing every fifth day," Girardi told reporters after Tuesday's news conference welcoming Tanaka to the Yankees.

"Because the amount of work they like to do in between their starts is something that you have to curtail because you don't have as much rest in between.

"They want to fix things on the side sometimes, but sometimes you can't just throw until you find it," added Girardi, who as a Yankees catcher caught Japanese import Hideki Irabu in 1997, and as New York's manager has worked current Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda into the rotation.

Dealing with the weight of national pride also can be an adjustment, Girardi said.

"One thing I think I've seen from Japanese players is that they feel a little bit more weight in representing their country," he said.

"For me, the biggest thing is just be yourself. Go out and do what you do and be yourself, don't feel like you have to go out and live up to the contract and have to show everyone the first day that you're worth it."


The 25-year-old Tanaka, who went 24-0 last season in Japan, signed a seven-year, $155 million deal to join the Bronx Bombers.

Girardi said he saw the pressure to perform even affect the veteran Kuroda, who came to the Yankees after four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"He wanted to show everyone that he was worth every dollar that he made. You're going to have some bad starts, it's part of the game. Just don't let it snowball."

It was important to help a player put the ups and downs of a season in perspective, the Yankees manager said.

Girardi believes Kuroda can be that role model for Tanaka.

"Hiroki is very disciplined in how many pitches he throws between every start. It's the same amount," Girardi said about the 39-year-old Kuroda, who has won 27 games in his two seasons with New York. "And that should help him make the adjustment.

"Any time you have someone who's had a ton of success in both places, someone who it's easy to communicate with, I think it really helps."

Baseball players get set in their routines, but have to adjust, the Yankees manager added.

"I think a lot of people are creatures of habit, and sometimes you have to break those habits and form new ones," said Girardi, again thinking of Kuroda.

"And when you see someone who's done it, and done it at a high level and been very successful, I think it makes it easier to be willing to try."

Girardi said it also was important to help a player acclimate.

"Try to make them feel that they are part of this culture, that they fit in and they're accepted and we want them to feel comfortable," the manager said.

"We love you the same whether you have a good start or a bad start. We understand that's part of the game."


Yankees general manager Brian Cashman tried to ramp down high expectations for Tanaka after the big-money signing by saying he had the potential to be a solid number three starter.

Girardi said all the talk would begin to fade once the diamond action began.

"There's going to be expectations, but people will get used to seeing him after a while and he'll just become one of the guys, in a sense," the manager said.

Tanaka shrugged off the question of where he might fit into the Yankees' pitching pecking order.

"When I take the mound I feel that I like to win every single game," said the right-hander, who pretty much delivered in going 24-0 in 2013.

"Being an ace is something that not myself but other people label," he said through an interpreter. "Basically, what I want to do is go out there and do my best.

"I wanted to come here and win, to win the championship. I understand there's a lot of pressure, but I wanted to come here and see how far I can go."

(This story has been refiled to fix typo in headline)

(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Gene Cherry)

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