Tanaka throws first bullpen for Yankees
TAMPA, Florida (AP) — Masahiro Tanaka shed the dark business suit and put on a gray Yankees T-shirt and blue shorts and was ready to get to work.
After agreeing to a $155 million, seven-year contract on Jan. 22 and chartering from Tokyo to New York in a 787 for a news conference, the 25-year-old right-hander threw his first bullpen session under the watch of the Yankees.
Two days before the official start of the team’s spring training workouts, Tanaka breezed through a 25-pitch bullpen session to catcher Francisco Cervelli on Thursday at New York’s minor league complex.
“I could see his face. Looks like he wants to have fun,” Cervelli said.
Tanaka threw two- and four-seam fastballs, splitters and sliders. Cervelli estimated Tanaka threw at about 60 percent strength, and he said pitcher Ivan Nova and coaches were around for the session.
“The fastball travels so well. I think his mechanics are so smooth,” Cervelli said. “Japanese pitchers, they all got five, six pitches. So it’s fun just to be behind the plate and catch it.”
Tanaka was 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year in 27 starts and one relief appearance, leading the Rakuten Golden Eagles to their first Japan Series title. Starting pitchers appear just once a week in Japan, so Tanaka will have to adjust to the major league schedule of starting every fifth day.
“You have to retrain the arm a little bit,” Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “I’m trying right now to moderate his schedule according to what he’s done in the past because he’s stayed healthy pretty much throughout his career.”
Rothschild said Tanaka laughed a lot and was good natured. Cervelli giggled and smiled when talking about Tanaka’s flight to the U.S. — his aircraft, which seats about 200, had five human passengers plus a toy poodle. Cervelli, who has a $700,000 salary, can only aspire to such a lifestyle.
“I would love to. I think first class can be fine,” he said. “You know how many home runs I have to hit to get on that plane?”
He paused, then finished his thought.
“But nothing is impossible.”