Masahiro Tanaka pitched well in his spring training debut for the Yankees

Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka

The Yankees defeated the Philadelphia Phillies 4-0 Saturday afternoon in a highly anticipated spring training game at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Many were looking forward to this game because it had been known for a few days that Masahiro Tanaka would be pitching against another team for the first time after coming over from Japan.

Before Tanaka came in, CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda each pitched two scoreless innings. Sabathia allowed two hits and struck out one during his two frames. He will be the team’s No. 1 starter for the sixth year in a row. Kuroda, who had a 3.31 ERA last season at age 38, only needed 17 pitches to get through the third and fourth innings. The Yankees could not have asked for their No. 2 starter to be more efficient.

After Ichiro hit an RBI single for the first run of the game in the fourth, Tanaka would make his long awaited appearance in the top of the fifth. In his two innings, he allowed two hits, three strikeouts and did not allow a walk. He definitely did not disappoint in his first outing of spring training.

The first batter that Tanaka faced hit a weak single to center. Tanaka ended the fifth inning with a swinging strikeout on a 3-2 count. To begin the top of the sixth, he struck out Ben Revere, who had a .305 average with 22 steals last season, with his signature splitter. Also in the sixth inning, Tanaka was able to strike out Domonic Brown, who had 27 homers and 83 RBI in 2013, with a high inside fastball. Tanaka’s ability to strike out Revere and Brown proves that he could be able to live up to the expectations since they are established major league players.

In the seventh inning, Dean Anna, who could be a back-up middle infielder if he has a great spring, made a web gem caliber play at shortstop. A grounder was hit in the hole between short and third and he put enough on his throw to just barely throw out the runner at first. This is the type of play that Derek Jeter has made many times in his career.

Dellin Betances and Ceasar Cabral were the two pitchers that came in after Tanaka for the Yankees. Cabral could be the second lefty after Matt Thornton in the bullpen and Betances, who was switched from starter to reliever last season in AAA Scranton, could be a set-up man to David Roberton. Betances, the 25-year-old from Brooklyn, needed 30 pitches to record 1.2 scoreless innings.

Austin Romine, who is competing with Francisco Cervelli to be Brian McCann’s back-up catcher, had this to say about Tanaka’s splitter: “I’ve never seen a ball move like that before. It’s special.” Some have called Tanaka’s split fingered fastball the best in the world.

This spring training game was unusual because the expected first three starters in the rotation each pitched. Joe Girardi said that this was pitching coach Larry Rothschild’s idea. Today’s game was definitely a big deal in Japan because Kuroda, Tanaka and Ichiro all appeared for the Yankees. The YES broadcast even showed a monitor that was only focused on Tanaka.

Even though the Bronx Bombers scored four runs, what will be remembered from this game is that Sabathia, Kuroda and Tanaka all appear to be on the right track early in camp.

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