For those unaware, Masahiro Tanaka threw two innings in today’s Yankee spring training game, marking the first game he’s thrown on U.S. soil. Here’s his windup in slow motion to get everyone hyped up:
If you missed the game, don’t worry. We’ve Gif’d up every single pitch he threw so you can experience his first public outing just like you were there.
Before we begin, let’s quickly summarize the current scouting reports for the Japanese import:
- His primary pitches are a Fastball, Slider, Split-Finger, while he also mixes in a Curveball and Cutter, and is working on a Changeup.
- His Fastball often sits in the low-to-mid 90s, but can rear back and hit 97+ when he needs to. Not a whole bunch of movement.
- The Split-Finger is the special pitch that sets him apart. It’s his bread-and-butter, and he will find success if he’s commanding it effectively. It’s the pitch everyone is dying to see.
- His best breaking pitch is his Slider, with his Curveball acting more as a ‘show me’ pitch. The Slider isn’t the most consistent pitch, but can be devastating when mixed properly with his Splitter and Fastball.
YES gave us a run down of the his pitch rates from 2013 in Japan:
Now that we have a foundation for Tanaka, let’s see how he did in today’s Spring Training game. We’ll be labeling every pitch and providing analysis as we go.
First at-bat: Darin Ruf, Three Pitches, Single to Center.
1.1 Fastball: Just what the doctor ordered to start things off: a low 90s fastball on the black, down and away.
1.2 Splitter: Wow. If the pitch is landing in the dirt a few inches off the plate, and the batter is swinging, you know you have a solid pitch on your hands. Just look at where it started (at the letters). Perfectly set up by the previous Fastball on the corner.
1.3 Fastball: He hit the spot perfectly, it just wasn’t the right call for an 0-2 pitch where you’ve targeted the same spot in the previous two pitches. Ruf wound up with a smooth single to center.
Second At-bat: Cody Asche, Two pitches, Fly Out to Left.
2.1 Curve: There’s that ‘show me’ Curveball. He didn’t quite get the timing right, and it fizzled out. It will be interesting to see if he can develop this pitch so he can throw it with confidence early in counts.
2.2 Fastball/Cutter: Missed his target, but fortunately Asche fished at the low pitch and lofted it to left field for an easy out. It’s possible this was his first Cutter of the day. The pitch moves late and at 90 MPH is a a bit slow for a straight Fastball. Tanaka got a bit lucky in this at-bat, getting an out on two poorly thrown pitches.
Third at-bat: Cameron Rupp, Five pitches, Fly Out to Left.
3.1 Splitter: Tanaka’s Splitter is so deadly that he can miss his spot by a foot, in the dirt and off the plate, and still get a swing-and-miss. Keep in mind, there wasn’t even a Fastball to set up Rupp either. Just imagine if he gets full command of this pitch…
3.2 Curve: Tanaka tries again to get an early strike with his Curveball…and fails. It’s spring training, so hopefully he’ll throw it enough to get in the groove for the season. (Note: the count is wrong, it’s 0-1)
3.3 Fastball: Tanaka comes back with a Fastball that misses off the outside corner.
3.4 Fastball: Tanaka adjusts and hits the outside corner this time. A little up, but Rupp fouls it off.
3.5 Slider/Splitter: I want to say this is a Splitter, given how the two previous fastballs set him up perfectly, and the first pitch displays Rupps inability to pick up the pitch. However, the break and speed make me think it’s a Slider, not to mention Tanaka hadn’t thrown one yet in the outing. Regardless, he made a mistake pitch, and was lucky to escape with a lazy fly out to left.
Fourth At-bat: Cesar Hernandez, Seven pitches, Strikeout.
4.1 Fastball: Tanaka tried to start Hernandez off with a heater inside and missed off the plate.
4.2 Splitter: Comes back with a beautiful Splitter that darts straight down in the zone. If Tanaka makes a better first pitch, this ball would have been chased for strike two. Unfortunately, missing on the opening Fastball means this pitch gets wasted as well.
4.3 Fastball: Tanaka comes back with a Fastball that may or may not be a strike. He needed to get back in the count, and, as 95% of pitchers do, he relied on his Fastball.
4.4 Fastball: He came back with another Fastball, this time hitting 94 MPH. A bit up in the zone, and I’m surprised Hernandez didn’t take a swing given the 2-1 count.
4.5 Splitter: As expected, after two Fastballs hitting the outside corner, Tanaka came back with a Splitter, hoping Hernandez would bite. No dice.
4.6 Fastball: After missing with the Splitter, he came with another Fastball. He missed up again, and got lucky with a foul ball. Most likely would have been ball four.
4.7 Fastball: Dials it up again to 94 and blazes it past Hernandez to get the strikeout. Probably Tanaka’s worst at-bat of the outing, and against better hitters will not be so lucky.
Fifth At-bat: Ben Revere, Three pitches, Strikeout.
5.1 Fastball: He started off the sixth inning with a Fastball right down the pipe.
5.2 Fastball/Cutter: One of Tanaka’s better Fastballs of the day. Up in the zone and in on the hands, Revere can’t do much but fist it foul. The late movement moves the pitch off the barrel of the bat. Also puts Revere in a 0-2 hole, and perfectly set-up for the next pitch.
5.3 Splitter: His best pitch of the game. What looks to be a Fastball down Broadway falls right off the table to get a defensive-swinging Revere. Good things happen when you can get ahead of hitters with your Fastball.
Here’s that same pitch again in slow-motion. Beautiful.
Sixth At-bat: Ronny Cedeno, Three Pitches, Bloop-Single to Center.
6.1 Fastball: Excellent pitch to start off Cedeno. Tanaka is looking good in the sixth.
6.2 Slider/Splitter: I take that back. Another sloppy Slider/Splitter that I can’t tell the difference between. My guess sides with the Slider given the lack of break and how it evens out at the end of the pitch.
Seventh At-bat: Dominic Brown, Six pitches, Strikeout.
7.1 Curveball: Tanaka is now 0 for 3 trying to throw a surprise Curveball early in the count for a cheap strike. It seems like he’s used to this tactic, so expect a lot more as he finds a groove for it. Don’t expect it deep in counts.
7.2 Splitter: Once again, Tanaka throws a Splitter in the dirt off the left side of the plate and gets a hitter to bite. Insane.
7.3 Cutter: Tanaka tries to use the Cutter in on the hands, but just misses. You can see the late movement on the Cutter well here. You know what’s coming next…
7.4 Splitter: Yep, it’s that Splitter again. Not a very good one though, as it gets way too much of the plate. Nevertheless, a guy like Dominic Brown can make you pay for such a mistake pitch, and to see him struggle with it is a good indication of how effective Tanaka’s Splitter is.
7.5 Cutter: Tanaka then raises the ladder on Brown, getting his third strikeout of the game on a solid pitch. It looks like the Cutter will be a weapon in on lefties, as one would expect. Gotta love that little fist-pump at the end. It’s as if he wants to get excited but knows it’s just spring training.
Eighth At-bat: Kelly Dugan, four pitches, Fly Out to Right.
8.1 Fastball: Excellent first pitch from Tanaka, nailing the outside corner with what looks to be a tailing Two-Seam Fastball.
8.2 Fastball/Cutter: He changes it up, and attempts to sneak a Fastball inside. Notice how much Dugan jumps back despite just missing the corner. It’s a good indication of how effective the change of location was.
8.3 Splitter: Two Fastballs in a row? It’s time for the Splitter! Just misses off the plate, but it was a good pitch call. Dugan was caught on his front foot.
8.4 Fastball: Tanaka’s final pitch of the afternoon was one of his worst, a Fastball in the heart of the plate in a 2-1 count. He’s lucky it resulted in a fly out to right-center.
Conclusion: Overall, it was a solid first start for Tanaka. Going 2 IP, 2 Hits, 3 Ks, and 0 BBs, he had flashes of elite talent, exemplified in his three-pitch strikeout of Ben Revere that concluded with a dazzling Splitter. When he got ahead, he was able to get hitters to chase his Splitter and control the at-bat. He made some mistake pitches as well that will get him punished against better hitters. Nevertheless, the key for Tanaka will be to get ahead of hitters to properly set them up for his filthy Splitter. If he can do that consistently, he’ll be the front-of-the-line starter the Yankees desperately need in their rotation.
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