Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tanaka, Sanchez Pointed toward Opening Day Starts

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Tanaka, Sanchez Pointed toward Opening Day Starts

Article excerpt

TAMPA, Fla. - Masahiro Tanaka can be a harsh self-critic, but he was generally pleased about his 2017 Grapefruit League debut start.

"I liked everything," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "Except the first pitch."

The right-hander's first delivery flew to the backstop and he was at a loss to explain why. "I'm not really sure," Tanaka said with a laugh.

From that point, Tanaka sailed through two scoreless innings at Steinbrenner Field on Tuesday afternoon, a good day for the Yankees' starting battery. Last year's rookie power-hitting sensation Gary Sanchez belted his first homer of the exhibition season in the Yanks' 9-5 split-squad win against the Tigers before 6,935 fans.

It was just a cameo for Tanaka and three at-bats for Sanchez on Tuesday, but it was a promising beginning for the Yanks' anticipated opening day pitcher-catcher tandem.

Tanaka faced just six batters and recorded four ground ball outs and two strikeouts, both coming on his signature splitter. Sanchez had two hits and followed his third-inning, two-run homer off right-hander Drew VerHagen with a long out, lining out to deep left field with the bases loaded.

As for the homer, "I feel good about that, but I've got to say I hit a little under (the ball) and I think the wind grabbed hold of it and helped me out," he said.

After he hit 20 home runs in just 53 games last year, the prospect of Sanchez's full-season impact has fueled the Yanks' best hopes for 2017. But he arrived in camp intent on developing greater rapport with his pitchers.

"You know the offensive numbers. The thing that stood out for me (in 2016) was his defense," said bench coach Rob Thomson, serving as manager while Joe Girardi managed the split-squad's 5-4 win against Boston at Fort Myers.

Thomson noted that Tanaka's velocity "seemed to be up a little bit, more than it normally is this time of year. …

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