Tanaka adjusting to five-day schedule
Baseball is baseball no matter where and when it's played - but in MLB, starting pitchers go every fifth day, a big difference from the once-a-week mentality in Japan, so how he can handle the workload is as big of a deal as how he handles the competition.
Right now, Tanaka is getting his first taste of that workload, and the schedule that goes along with it. He threw a simulated game Tuesday, throwing the equivalent of four innings, and then had a bullpen session Thursday morning ahead of a scheduled start here in Tampa on Sunday.
And, as it seemed in the clubhouse after that bullpen, he's already seeing where he needs to make adjustments, at least from a pitching standpoint.
"I was working on my fastball a bit. Given the simulated game on Tuesday, I wanted to work on that a little bit today," he said through his interpreter. "I was working on the pitch form a little bit, and trying to get that right. It's something within myself that's hard to explain."
However, Tanaka himself can't yet say how he's making adjustments to the schedule.
He did say that the simulated game, although a first for him, felt comparable to live batting practice so he wasn't rattled at all - and it showed in his recording nine of 12 outs via strikeout. Tanaka also said that he wouldn't compare how he prepared for a season in Japan to this spring training, because the latter is now irrelevant.
That's where the five-day cycle comes in, but even he hasn't seen enough of himself yet to know how that's affecting him.
"Gradually, I think I'm getting used to it, but it's hard to say at this point because my pitch count is limited," he said. "I think I'll get a better idea once I start throwing a lot more pitches, and then I'll see how I feel."
The issue there, though, is that Tanaka may not know that until April.
He will get at least one extra day of rest over his next cycle, as Joe Girardi doesn't have him penciled in to pitch again until at least next Saturday; a Yankees off-day on Monday, March 24 could then mean another, as Tanaka will pitch only once over the final week and his positioning may be dependent on what the skipper needs to see out of others, and where he lines up in the regular-season rotation could dictate even more rest after his final spring start.
But that, Girardi says, is simply a calendar issue and nothing else.
"Masahiro Tanaka is going to be on a five-man schedule," Girardi said Thursday. "He'll get an extra day next week, but he's been on a five-man schedule most of the spring, and during the season, he's going to have to pitch every fifth day."
And if there's a little extra work, or maybe something different that happens in those extra days, Tanaka says bring it on.
"From my standpoint, I'm just going to throw in whatever situation my manager puts me into. Wherever Joe Girardi wants me, I'm going to try to do my best."