Masahiro Tanaka

Inside Masahiro Tanaka’s debut

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TAMPA — The original plan was to go sit in the crowd and drink beer at the Astros-Tigers game, but when it was announced that Masahiro Tanaka was making his spring training debut in Tampa today, plans changed. I got in the car at 6:30 this morning and headed to Steinbrenner Field early to take in the craziness of the opening act of Tanaka’s U.S. career.

As was the case with Yu Darvish’s first start in Arizona two years ago, the general feeling around the ballpark today was anything but dull. Throngs of reporters. I’d say over 100, but it’s hard to get a count. They set up 30 temporary folding chairs and tables in the press box in addition to the 30+ permanent seats. That still left several print journalists with no place to sit. Not that having a seat meant a great view or anything. And that’s before you count the dozens of photographers, camera crews and correspondents, mostly Japanese, who were wandering around, looking for places to set up.

But it’s not like the Yankees and their staff treated it like a crazy day. Indeed, every cliche you’ve ever heard about the Yankees being big time and professional applied today, much to the organization’s credit. The media relations office was unflappable and had everything at the ready. There were enough copies of rosters and information sheets and enough coffee and bottles of water for everyone. The internet worked. The parking attendants knew where everyone was supposed to go. That sounds like it should be the expectation, but it’s really not. Most clubs do fine on normal days, but on odd days where big news or events are happening at a spring training ballpark, there’s usually some uncertainty and confusion. The Yankees’ most normal of days are like most clubs’ big days. They’ve seen it all and can handle it all.

Steinbrenner Field is the most major league facility I’ve seen in spring training, and that extends to the clubhouse too. It’s large and plush and today it was quiet once you adjusted for the increased media presence. Players went about their business. Joe Girardi and his coaches went about theirs. Most questions about Tanaka were met with shrugs or jokes. They’ve lived with Ichiro for a couple of years. A-Rod’s myriad distractions. Jeter’s retirement stuff. New, big name players arriving each season and old, famous retired players showing up all the time. It’s a place where Derek Jeter, Yogi Berra and Reggie Jackson walk around as if it’s no big deal. Where the guys who pitch batting practice are all former All-Stars. Hell, the ghost of Mickey Mantle could show up and start shaking hands and making small talk and no one would bat an eye, I figure.

Not that Tanaka goes unnoticed. Indeed, the press was set up, waiting for his arrival in the tunnel starting at 8 AM:

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He walked through, quickly, at 11:20 AM:

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All that sitting around just to get a quick shot of the guy. After that he disappeared into the clubhouse and wasn’t seen until game time.

I walked out into the stands after the gates opened to talk to some fans in order to get their views of their new Tanaka-rich world. There was a common thread running through their sentiments. Sin Sindoni of Alexandria, Virginia (originally from New York) said that she wasn’t aware that Tanaka was pitching today. But seeing him today, even if a nice bonus, isn’t exactly the ultimate end.

“If he gets us back to the World Series, that’s all that matters,” she said. Her brother Mike Sindoni, of New Boston, New Hampshire said much the same thing.

“I’m looking forward to seeing him. Hopefully he makes us better,” he said.

I walked farther down the concourse and spoke with Jose Tavera, of Tampa. Jose didn’t know Tanaka was pitching today until I told him and was pleased to hear it.

“I’m excited to see what he has to offer,” he said. ” I’m excited for the Yankees. Hopefully he’ll help them get back to the playoffs and the World Series.”

The Yankees have long set such expectations for themselves. I’ve sometimes taken it as a bit of a marketing ploy — being a Championship Team is the Yankees’ brand, and they clearly sell the “anything less than a World Series victory is a disappointment” thing. But the fans clearly buy into it. And in so doing, they make additions like Tanaka something less of a central focus than fans of some team might make of their new additions. Robinson Cano may be a big deal in Seattle. The Indians have built an entire years-long marketing campaign around Nick Swisher. The Yankees sell championship baseball, and in so doing fans only get excited about someone exotic and new like Tanaka insofar as he helps them to that goal.

Joe Girardi started the game with CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda for two innings a piece. Then Tanaka took over in the top of the fifth. Here’s his first pitch thrown in anger in the United States:

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That was a strike.  After that he allowed a leadoff single to Darin Ruf before retiring Cody Asche and Cameron Rup on flies to left. He pitched the count full against Cesar Hernandez before ultimately striking him out. If you were watching on TV you had a better view of his actual stuff, but he looked pretty good from the first base line. Back out for the sixth, he struck out Ben Revere on three swinging strikes, allowed a Ronny Cedeno single to center, struck out Domonic Brown and then got Kelly Dugan to fly out to center.

As I said in my recap earlier, Tanaka looked pretty good. Like you would expect a major league veteran to look around the first of March. The breaking ball was a bit iffy, the fastball was solid and the splitter was impressive. There is obviously more in his tank than he showed today, but he did dig down a couple of times to register Ks.

After the game Tanaka faced a much bigger challenge than anything the Phillies threw at him:

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To say there’s a bit of interest in him is the understatement of the century. He was shuttled back and forth along this wall, taking questions from Japanese print and TV media here, then down to where those blue backdrops are near the upper right for on-camera interviews with YES Network, ESPN and Japanese TV, where former Mariner Kaz Sasaki spoke with him. Tanaka was composed and answered every question like a ballplayer might — he felt good, he’s working on things, he’s happy to play in games, he looks forward to playing in front of American crowds, etc. — but you wonder how this sort of scrutiny will feel after six or seven months of it. When he can’t just shower, dress, answer a couple of questions and then go like 20 or 22 of his 25 teammates can. Maybe Ichiro Suzuki will buy him a watch for taking the heat off of him after all of these years. Maybe Suzuki can also help him adjust to this sort of thing.

Thus endeth the first day — the first real day, anyway — in Masahiro Tanaka’s major league career. And his first day under a microscope as powerful as the one focusing on Japanese stars making their way in the U.S.A. can be.

Xander Bogaerts extends hitting streak to 22 games

BOSTON, MA - MAY 22:  Xander Bogaerts #2 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after he hit a single in the second inning against the Cleveland Indians at Fenway Park on May 22, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s hitting streak may be gone, but Xander Bogaerts‘ is still alive and kicking. The Red Sox shortstop extended his streak to 22 games on Sunday afternoon against the Blue Jays, hitting a ground ball single to left field off of R.A. Dickey in the sixth inning.

Coming into Sunday’s action, Bogaerts’ .351 batting average was the best mark in the American League and bested only by the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy (.390) and Ben Zobrist (.354). Bogaerts’ 71 total hits marked the most in baseball entering Sunday as well.

Report: Padres, White Sox discussing potential James Shields trade

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - MAY 7:  James Shields #33 of the San Diego Padres pitches during the first inning of a baseball game against the New York Mets at PETCO Park on May 7, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)
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Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Saturday that the Padres and White Sox have been discussing a trade involving starter James Shields. Those talks have “significant momentum,” according to Lin. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, however, says that nothing is imminent and that the Padres have fielded calls from a lot of teams interested in Shields.

Shields, 34, has a 3.06 ERA and a 56/23 K/BB ratio over 10 starts this season. He’s in the second year of a four-year, $75 million contract, earning $21 million this season as well as in 2017-18 with a $2 million buyout if his 2019 club option for $16 million is declined. Presumably, the Padres would be covering a portion of that remaining contract.

The White Sox got off to a hot start, but have slumped in May. The club entered Sunday on a five-game losing streak and had lost 11 of the previous 14 games. While Chris Sale and Jose Quintana have been outstanding at the top of the starting rotation, the back end of Carlos Rodon, Mat Latos, and Miguel Gonzalez has been underwhelming.

Jake Odorizzi loses no-hitter against the Yankees in the seventh inning

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - MAY 29:  Jake Odorizzi #23 of the Tampa Bay Rays pitches during the first inning of a game against the New York Yankees on May 29, 2016 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Update (3:13 PM EDT): The no-hit bid is over. Odorizzi got Jacoby Ellsbury to ground out to lead off the seventh inning, but issued a walk to Brett Gardner before Starlin Castro crushed a two-run home run to left-center field, putting the Yankees up 2-1.

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Rays starter Jake Odorizzi is two-thirds of the way towards a no-hitter against the Yankees on Sunday afternoon. On 81 pitches thus far, the right-hander has struck out five and walked none on 83 pitches. The lone blemish is a fielding error by shortstop Brad Miller.

The Rays have provided Odorizzi with just one run of support, coming on an RBI single by Evan Longoria in the third inning against Yankees starter Nathan Eovaldi.

If Odorizzi can finish the final three innings without a hit, he would record the Rays’ first no-hitter since Matt Garza on July 26, 2010 against the Tigers. For the Yankees, it would be the first time they would be victims of a no-hitter since the Astros’ combined no-hitter on June 11, 2003 which involved Roy Oswalt, Pete Munro, Kirk Saarloos, Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner.

Royals catcher Perez out 7 to 10 days with thigh bruise

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Chien-Ming Wang #67 of the Kansas City Royals looks over Salvador Perez #13  after Perez collided with Cheslor Cuthbert #19 of the Kansas City Royals while catching a foul ball hit by Adam Eaton #1 of the Chicago White Sox in the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. Perez was injured on the play and left the game. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Royals All-Star catcher Salvador Perez is expected to be out seven to 10 days with a bruised left thigh after colliding with rookie third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert while catching a foul popup.

Perez was hurt Saturday and an MRI confirmed the injury was a contusion and there did not appear to be structural damage.

“Hopefully it’s not going to require a trip to the DL,” Royals manager Ned Yost said Sunday. “We’re hoping he’ll be back in seven to 10 days. It could be earlier or later. We’ll just have to wait and see and just manage it day to day.

“Great news, you don’t want to have to put him on the DL and he’s ready to play in eight days and has to sit there for another week.”

Kansas City recalled catcher Tony Cruz from Triple-A Omaha, where he was hitting .278 with three home runs and 20 RBIs in 31 games. Cruz had a .220 average in 229 games with St. Louis during the past five years.

The Royals optioned right-hander Peter Moylan to Omaha. Moylan went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA in six relief appearances. The Royals will try to go with 12 pitchers until Perez returns.

“If I get in a pitching jam, I’m going to have to do something,” Yost said. “But we’re right now we’re trying to stay away from that and go with 12 pitchers. I’m hoping we can.”

Perez had called for the ball when Cuthbert barreled into him.

“We’ve been kidding him about it,” Yost said. “I told him (Chiefs coach) Andy Reid called and wants him to be on the special teams, but Andy was afraid he was going to tackle the guy when he’s giving the fair catch sign. I kind of dropped that one on him.”