Masahiro Tanaka has been signed by the Yankees (thank goodness) and we can all now happily wave goodbye to Plan 189 and feel, dare I say, hopeful for the upcoming season. Sure, New York still has some holes to fill, mainly in the infield and the bullpen, but now, with Tanaka, the Yankees have a a potentially excellent rotation. Adding him to the major lineup improvements that have already happened this offseason, the Yankees definitely look better than they did during the illustrious Lyle Overbay/Chris Stewart days of yesteryear.
Tanaka's ridiculous stats of 24-0 with 1.27 ERA from last season seem to suggest that he can succeed in the majors. Former teammates, and former Yankees, apparently agree, saying he has the stuff (both physical and mental) to make it in the Bronx. Casey McGehee, who played third base for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last year, and played 22 games for New York in 2012, said about signing Tanaka, "You could see from day one he's kind of a different animal," according to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. McGehee went on to say that Tanaka's "unbelievably competitive. The jury is out on how many pitches he has, but he's got at least three that are weapons, not just pitches he uses her and there. He can lean on any one of his fastball-slider-split at any time." It's that splitter that really sets Tanaka apart, McGehee said. "His forkball is the best one I've seen."
McGehee, in other interviews with both the New York Post and New York Daily News, pointed to Tanaka's performance in the Japan Series last season as proof of both Tanaka's physical abilities and passion for the game. After throwing 160 pitches in Game 6, Tanaka's teammates saw him warming up the next day for Game 7. He eventually got the save, throwing a 15-pitch ninth inning to close out the game and the series. That performance reminded McGehee of a former teammate he played with a few year back. "He was kind of like CC Sabathia that year in Milwaukee when he kept going out there and we all knew what he had on the line." McGehee went on to say, "Tanaka was the same way...He was just worried about the team winning and wanted to do literally everything he could to make it happen. He put it all on himself. Fans in New York are going to love that about him."
Andruw Jones, another former Yankee who played for Rakuten last season, also spoke highly of Tanaka. In an interview with the New York Post, Jones said of Tanaka, "He can overpower and he can control. He's a very competitive guy." Jones also noted Tanaka's splitter: "He has a very good split finger. And he started working on his changeup toward the end of the season. He's a tremendous fielder. If he does all those things, he's got a good chance."
While nothing is guaranteed, it is good to hear firsthand accounts of how terrific a pitcher, and teammate, Tanaka is. The story about him throwing 160 pitches in the Japan Series and then being ready (and being called on) to close out the game really shows his passion and commitment, not mention skill. Reportedly, when McGehee and Jones asked him if he was really thinking about playing in Game 7, Tanaka simply said: "If we're winning, I'm pitching."
I know he can't live up to the hype but...is 24-0 two years in a row really too much to ask?
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