TAMPA — Masahiro Tanaka made his U.S. debut today, facing the Phillies at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa. Tanaka pitched third in the game, with CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda taking the first four innings. Tanaka was not dominant, but he was effective.
In the fifth he gave up a leadoff single to Darin Ruf then retired Cody Asche and Cameron Rup on flies to left. He pitched the count full against Cesar Hernandez before ultimately striking him out. Back out for the sixth he struck out Ben Revere on three swinging strikes, one of which came on Tanaka’s fabled split-finger fastball. He then allowed a Ronny Cedeno single to center, struck out Domonic Brown and then induced Kelly Dugan to fly out to center.
Tanaka wasn’t razor-sharp, but he looked just fine for a guy getting his first work in of the spring. He threw 32 pitches, 22 for strikes. When he needed to dial it up a bit, such as that splitter to Revere and the chest-high fastball that served as strike three to Brown, he was able to easily. Mostly, he looked composed. He was like any other major leaguer at the first of March. He knows it’s a long season and didn’t feel any need to go to 10 when the Yankees only needed him at a 7.
Not bad for a 7.
Check out the highlights from Tanaka’s performance below:
Infielder Javier Baez is back in camp with the Cubs after helping Puerto Rico to a second-place finish in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. He was the focal point of what was, to many, the most memorable play of the entire tournament: Baez pointed at catcher Yadier Molina, who was attempting to throw out a would-be base-stealer, before applying the tag for the final out of the eighth inning.
While Baez didn’t receive much criticism for his theatrics, aside from an insignificant handful of spoilsports, he is one of the players who most exemplifies the emotional, celebratory culture that foreign players bring to Major League Baseball. U.S. (and Tigers) second baseman Ian Kinsler is on the other side of that spectrum, as he said prior to the WBC final that he hopes kids mimic the solemn way U.S. players play the game rather than the emotional, passionate way players from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic play the game.
Baez isn’t about to apologize for the way he and his teammates play the game. Via CSN Chicago’s Patrick Mooney, Baez said, “We do a great job playing and having fun out there. That’s what it’s all about. This is a game. It’s not as serious as a lot of people take it. but, you know, everybody’s got their style and their talent. I have a lot of fun.”
He continued, “It’s their choice to look at how we play, how excited we get. To us, it’s really huge what we did, even though we didn’t win. All of Puerto Rico got really together. We were going through a hard time over there and everything got fixed up for at least three weeks. Hopefully, they keep it like that.”
Angels outfielder Mike Trout came up with an idea that would allow less experienced umpires an opportunity to call some major league spring training action. As ESPN’s Buster Olney reports, Trout thinks the veteran umpires should only call five or six innings as they get back into regular season shape. The rest of the innings could be called by minor league umpires.
According to Olney, baseball officials loved Trout’s idea when they heard about it last week. One official said, “It makes a lot of sense for a lot of different reasons.” Another said, “That’s Trout — he’s always paying attention to stuff beyond what he’s doing.”
Of course, I have to agree that the suggestion is a great one. As Olney notes, the turnover rate for umpires every year is relatively low, so younger, less-experienced umpires have few opportunities to get a feel for what it’s like calling major league action. Even beyond the actual interpretation of the rules, interacting with big league personalities would also be helpful for minor league umpires.