Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tanaka Works out of a Jam

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tanaka Works out of a Jam

Article excerpt

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Masahiro Tanaka was in genuine trouble, the tightest spot he'd experienced in these big league rehearsals known as Grapefruit League starts.

Joe Mauer had just walked on four straight pitches to load the bases Saturday afternoon at Hammond Stadium, where a representative Minnesota Twins' lineup was in place. The next batter was cleanup hitter Josh Willingham.

Swinging at a two-seam fastball, Willingham sent a towering fly ball that carried to the left field warning track, where it was caught to end the third inning.

Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli had wanted that pitch a little lower and a bit more inside than Tanaka delivered it. The result was a fastball that narrowly avoided becoming a grand slam. "But it was an out," said Cervelli, summarizing the right-hander's day.

In his best test since he arrived from Japan with great expectations, Tanaka yielded three runs over 5 2/3 innings in a 5-4 Yankees victory before 9,298 fans - the largest attendance in the ballpark's history.

But wait until he's out there for a real game in about two weeks.

"He's going to be aggressive, you know, with 50,000 people and it's New York," Cervelli said, imagining Tanaka, who was the winning pitcher Saturday, on a greater stage than a field in South Florida.

Tanaka, 25, could have been made to pitch in a far less significant game Saturday.

Instead, veteran right-hander Hiroki Kuroda stayed back in Tampa to pitch in a minor league exhibition game while Tanaka faced what could have been the Twins' opening day lineup.

Tanaka has been eager to challenge himself against major league hitters as much as possible this spring. After Saturday's outing, manager Joe Girardi was more pleased with Tanaka's resolve than with his stuff on this particular afternoon.

"You're not going to have your great stuff every time out and you have to figure out a way to get it done, and he did that today," Girardi said. …

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