Tanaka Shines In Debut As Yankees Blank Phils

GAME 4

YANKEES 4, PHILLIES 0

TAMPA – It is not often that CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Derek Jeter get overshadowed around the Yankees’ spring-training complex in Tampa, FL. But Masahiro Tanaka did just that on Saturday at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Tanaka, making his much anticipated major-league debut, entered the contest in the fifth inning and pitched two scoreless frames as New York shut out the Philadelphia Phillies in front of a paid crowd of 10,934.

Tanaka, 25, gave up a sharp single to Darin Ruf on a 0-2 pitch to begin his outing. But he then retired Cody Asche and Cameron Rupp on fly balls and struck out Cesar Hernandez on a 3-2 fastball. In the sixth, the Japanese right-hander fanned Ben Revere on an 0-2 splitter, gave up a bloop single to Ronny Cedeno, struck out Dominic Brown and he finished up by retiring Kelly Dugan on a shallow fly ball.

“I was nervous, but it was a really good nervous,” Tanaka told reporters through an interpreter. “It’s the first time that the batters faced me. It’ll probably be a little bit different the next time around.”

Tanaka said he was happy to have his first game under his belt.

With all the buzz about the $155 million free-agent Tanaka, a slimmed down Sabathia actually started the game and set the tone for the day by completing two shutout innings, yielding two singles, striking out one and walking none. His fastball reached as high as 88 miles per hour.

Sabathia lost about 30 pounds during the offseason but incorporated a strength program to build up muscle mass so he could remain strong after a disappointing 2013 season in which he was 14-13 with a 4.78 ERA.

Kuroda followed Sabathia and also threw two scoreless frames, surrendering just a bunt single while fanning two and walking none.

Jeter started his second game of the spring and was 0-for-2 with a walk and a run scored. But his main highlight was a well-turned double play in the third inning behind Kuroda. After Hernandez reached first on a bunt, Jeter grabbed a sinking drive off the bat of Revere on a short hop, tagged out Hernandez and then flipped the ball to Corban Joseph at first to double up Revere.

The Yankees backed the Yankees’ excellent pitching with some timely offense.

They broke through in fourth inning off Cuban defector and right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, who also was making his major-league debut after signing a three-year, $12 million contract with the Phillies.

Gonzalez, however, was done in by his lack of command on his pitches.

He opened the frame by walking Francisco Cervelli and Kelly Johnson. Ichiro Suzuki then followed with an opposite field high-hopper that bounced off the glove of Asche and rolled into left-field. Cervelli scored easily putting the Yankees on the board.

The Yankees added another run in the fifth off right-hander Kevin Munson.

Jeter reached first on a throwing error by Asche and he advanced to second on a walk drawn by Brian McCann. After Brian Roberts erased McCann  on a force play at second, Cervelli slapped a single to left to score Jeter.

The Yankees closed out the scoring in the seventh inning when rookie outfielder Adonis Garcia laced a two-out, bases-loaded single off left-hander Jeremy Horst to drive in Dean Anna and John Ryan Murphy.

Kuroda (1-0) got credit for the victory. Gonzalez (0-1) was saddled with the loss.

The Yankees evened their Grapefruit League record to 2-2. The Phillies fell to 1-3.

PINSTRIPE POSITIVES

  • The Yankees have to feel good about the 60 percent of their starting rotation that pitched on Saturday. They combined to shut out the Phillies on five hits, no walks and six strikeouts. Tanaka’s debut drew high praise from the Phillies. “He’s going to be a tough pitcher,”  Revere told reporters. “I guarantee that.” Rupp was left perplexed. “I have absolutely no idea what the first pitch he threw me was,” he told reporters. Ruf looked bad swinging and missing at the offering. Cervelli indicated that he called seven different pitches for Tanaka and that he intentionally did not call for many splitters, which is regarded as Tanaka’s best pitch.
  • McCann is off to a fast start with the bat and was impressive again on Saturday as the team’s designated hitter. With two out in the first inning, McCann laced a double off the wall in left-center off Phillies starter David Buchanan. The Phillies then chose to avoid pitching to him the rest of the day. Gonzalez walked him with two out to load the bases in the third. McCann then drew a walk from Munson with Jeter on first and no outs in the fifth. McCann is 3-for-5 with a homer, a double and two RBIs in early action.
  • Anna, who was acquired in a deal with the San Diego Padres, was mainly coveted for his bat after he led the Pacific Coast League in batting with a .331 average with nine homers and 73 RBIs. To be sure, the 27-year-old infielder is hitting .333 early but he really shined on Saturday with a great play at shortstop in the seventh inning. Anna dove to his right in the outfield grass to stop a hot ground ball off the bat of Ruf, sprang to his feet and threw him out by a step. Of course, he then booted a much easier chance against the next batter, Asche. This young man could make his way onto the Yankees roster at some point this season.

NAGGING NEGATIVES

When your top three starters throw shutout baseball for six innings and you win the game it is hard to find anything negative to say. So I won’t.

BOMBER BANTER

Sabathia downplayed his velocity when he was informed he topped out at 88 mph. “My fastball is what it is. If it gets better, it will,” Sabathia told reporters. “If it’s not, it won’t. I can pitch. I’m fine. As long as I’m healthy, I’ll be good.” Manager Joe Girardi said Sabathia’s velocity does not concern him. “I thought he looked good,” Girardi told reporters.  . . .  Outfielder and designated hitter Alfonso Soriano has missed their first five days of spring with the flu. But the team learned on Saturday that he is still not ready to play. Soriano was originally scheduled to play on Sunday but he will be held out until he is 100 percent. Soriano said he is at about 80 percent.

ON DECK

The Yankees will make their first trip to Dunedin, FL, on Sunday to play the Toronto Blue Jays.

Left-hander Vidal Nuno, who started an exhibition against Florida State University on Tuesday, will make his second start of the spring for the Yankees. Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran will head up the continent making the trip.

The Blue Jays will counter with right-hander Esmil Rogers, who was 5-9 with a 4.77 ERA in 44 games (20 of them starts) in 2013.

Game-time will be 1:05 p.m. EST and the game will be delay broadcast by the MLB Network at 8 p.m. EST.

 

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