Tanaka a cool customer


TAMPA, Fla. -- Masahiro Tanaka's first big league spring training camp is over, and it ended with a flourish Friday night -- a six-inning, three-hit, 10-strikeout, no-walk domination of the Miami Marlins in a 3-0 Yankees victory.

The next time Tanaka faces a hitter, it will be the real thing, in a real game, Friday night against the Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre in Toronto. You would think a 25-year-old rookie, even one with seven years' experience in the Nippon Baseball League, might feel a twinge of nerves or excitement or anticipation this close to his first big league start.

You would be wrong.

"I’ll be looking into the Blue Jays batters thoroughly from here on," Tanaka said through his interpreter this morning. "As far as excitement goes, I guess I can say I’m still not there yet."

Tanaka is certainly one cool customer who has made the transition from Japanese to American baseball seem about as difficult as the walk from the dugout to the mound. In five appearances this spring (three starts), Tanaka went 2-0, with a 2.14 ERA. In 21 innings, he allowed just 15 hits and three walks for a WHIP of 0.86, and struck out 26. And that was while he was still learning the opposing hitters and his own catcher and adapting to MLB's five-day rotation.

"I do feel that I learned a lot throughout the spring training," he said. "I think the important thing for me is not to stop here and keep learning as the season progresses."

On Friday, Hiroki Kuroda -- who pitched the first three innings of last night's game -- said he still was not sure after his first spring training with the L.A. Dodgers whether he would be able to get big league hitters out during the regular season. Tanaka seems to harbor no such doubts.

"I feel that I can’t overthink too much," he said. "What I don’t know is what I don’t know. So basically, I just have to go out there and keep learning and go about my business."

Asked to describe the main difference between hitters in Japan and in the U.S., Tanaka offered this: "I think the structure of their body basically is different here than back in Japan. Batters are bigger here, stronger here, and they can reach out further, so that would be the difference."

But when he was asked if that would change his approach to pitching to them in any way, he said, "No, I don't feel I need to change anything."

The way he has pitched so far this spring, the Yankees no doubt would agree.