Friday, March 13, 2015

How Reassuring Was Tanaka's First Spring Start?

Masahiro Tanaka returned to the mound Thursday night against the Braves, hurling two perfect innings and allowing my heart rate to stay below "Pamplona in July"-level for the entire outing.


Let's examine five Tanaka-related questions, about last night's performance and about the Yankees ace in general:

1) How'd he look?
In a word, overpowering. I expected Tanaka to throw mostly fastballs at about 90 miles an hour. You know, just ease back into it. Instead, he hit 94 on the radar gun and threw his trademark splitter four times. He also fired 15 strikes and just four balls. A splitter to strike out cleanup hitter Jonny Gomes was particularly vintage Tanaka. The Yanks right-hander made sure that Matt Harvey's return didn't end the debate about the best starting pitcher in New York. I hope that argument will persist throughout this season and for years to come.

2) But it's just two innings, in March, against the Braves. We shouldn't overreact and just assume he'll be the same guy he was in the first half of last season. Right?
While Gomes isn't the strongest hitter (or even much better than replacement level), Tanaka also struck out Freddie Freeman, a great hitter. Sure, the Braves aren't exactly the Red Sox, but this game wasn't just the equivalent of great NBA teams beating up on the 76ers this season.

In order to have any shot of making the playoffs this year, the Yankees need Tanaka to be the stud we watched for much of 2014. There are too many question marks behind him (both in the field and in the rotation) for the team to weather an injury to the ace. So while we shouldn't assume Tanaka will be a Cy Young candidate, it's very comforting that he looked so good on Thursday. Actually, let's overreact. Tanaka for Cy Young!

3) Is that all you got, Post editors?
Last Sunday, I joked that a hypothetical Post headline following Tanaka's first start might read "PRIMA NAK-TA". Thursday's paper thoroughly disappointed me, giving the Jets the major back page headline and including a simple "TANAKA PERFECT" text box in the top left corner. If the Post editors want to impress me this year, they need to step up their insensitive headline game. And speaking of insensitive...

4) Is this racist?
When I Googled "tanaka" to read some of the stories about Thursday's performance, I was reminded that this picture comes up next to Tanaka's short bio:

As if that's Tanaka's official picture or something. For a point of reference, here's the Wikipedia photo that comes up when you Google "sabathia":


CC might be just as cute as the average cartoon character, but the Internet at least respects him enough to use his real photo. What if you Googled "paul o'neill" and this image popped up?

Thomas Nast's "The Usual Irish Way of Doing Things" (Via irishcentral.com.)
That would be racist, right? Well, I think the Tanaka cartoon is a bit racist, too.

5) So, how reassuring was Tanaka's first spring start?
To answer the title of this post, we should be at least a little reassured. (Just, for the love of god, don't read this interview.) The Braves lineup is terrible, but Tanaka's best stuff can make even the best hitters appear foolish. Here, watch him make Carlos Gomez look like a drunk trying to swat a fly last year:


I know Tanaka pitched in a few games at the end of last season, but those were inconsequential contests after the Yanks were out of contention. Yesterday's exhibition might have been even more meaningless than those for the team, except that having Tanaka back at full strength is one of the biggest keys to the season. Start the countdown to his second start. I, for one, can't wait 'til the next Tanaka Day.



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Follow FranT on Twitter at @frantweet and follow Brian Kavanaugh at @btkav

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