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Masahiro Tanaka's velocity a sore subject for Joe Girardi

4/6/2015

NEW YORK -- It didn't take long -- just one question actually -- for New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi to grow a bit testy with the media on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium.

The question came from the YES Network's Meredith Marakovits, who asked -- quite reasonably -- about Masahiro Tanaka's admission on Saturday that the velocity probably won't be there on his four-seam fastball this season.

"Well, let's just wait and see what happens before everyone talks about [his velocity]," Girardi said, barely concealing his contempt for the subject. "I mean, his velocity was 93, 94 the first game. It was there that day. Let's just see what happens. There's so much talk about it, but until guys get out there, it's speculation."

The manager's reaction was curious since it was Tanaka who basically brought the issue up himself, and without being asked, before the Yankees' final exhibition in Washington on Saturday. So can it truly be dismissed as "speculation" when the pitcher himself tells you he's probably not going to be able to throw as hard this year as last year?

On a team full of question marks, Tanaka's health is among the biggest. He pitched well in his first two spring training outings, but not in his final two, and his spring ERA in 2015 was nearly a full run higher than last spring. Add in the indisputable fact that there is a tear, however small, in Tanaka's $155 million right elbow, and you've got the makings of a pivotal story from the first day of the Yankees' season; Tanaka, of course, gets the ball for today's season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays and their high-powered lineup. Hitters such as Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Reyes could provide some answers right away.

"He's not exactly sure what he's going to have every day when he goes out there. That's just the nature of being a pitcher," Girardi said. "You feel you're always going to have your best stuff when you warm up, but some days it's just not quite the same. For me, I'm just going to watch and see what happens."

And from the nature of his answers, not exactly easily.