Leiter: Tanaka will set the tone for series in Boston

YES analyst has no doubt Tanaka can handle the pressure at Fenway
04/22/2014 11:50 AM ET
By Staff

Masahiro Tanaka has already demonstrated an ability to pitch in high pressure games this season.(AP)
The second Yankees-Red Sox series of the season and first at Fenway Park kicks off Tuesday night, and Al Leiter will join Michael Kay and David Cone in the booth for the three-game set.

Ahead of the series opener, Leiter sat down with to give his first impressions on Tuesday's Yankees starter, Masahiro Tanaka, as well as CC Sabathia, manager Joe Girardi, and the state of the defending World Series champion Red Sox.

Leiter on Masahiro Tanaka: 

He is only going to get better; I don't care if it's Fenway or anywhere else, he'll be fine, without a doubt, until hitters start laying off his split-finger; his split is that good. He pitches to both sides of the plate, with a good fastball, and he's thrown two different-speed breaking balls (slider and curve), with mostly sliders to right-handed batters and curves to lefties. With most pitchers' splitters, it's usually "swing and miss" out of the zone, but Tanaka has the ability to throw a "swing and miss" split-finger in AND outside the strike zone; he can actually throw it for strikes, and the velocity of his split-finger is not much less than that of his fastball. It's not a slow split-finger, but more of a power off-speed pitch with late movement and late action, which makes it even more difficult to hit. It's not your typical off-speed pitch, because he throws it at 87-88 MPH. The first game - he against Lester - will will set the tone for the series; that's a premium match-up.

Leiter on the Red Sox: 

Right now, the Red Sox don't have it going yet. They haven't found a permanent leadoff hitter yet, and their lead-off hitters are having difficulty. The Yankees gained a good player in Jacoby Ellsbury, but the Red Sox lost a really big component of their lineup as a result. If you don't have a lead-off table-setter, you're not going to score as much; they've tried different guys with Shane Victorino hurt - Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley, Jonny Gomes, and even Dustin Pedroia - but what happens is, with all this movement, you get guys hitting out of place, and as a result, their lineup is not set yet. This is a team which led all of baseball in scoring last year, and now they are not scoring runs. They are near the bottom of the league in runs scored.

Compound that with your No. 2 starter, Clay Buchholz, not doing well and their bullpen struggling, and it's prime picking for the Yankees now to meet up with a team that hasn't "found it" yet. I also believe there is such a thing as a "World Series Hangover."

Leiter on Joe Girardi:

One of his strengths is mixing and matching lineups based on what he has at that particular time due to injuries and so on. He is also succeeding with a bullpen that doesn't have premium brand names; he figures out a way to put guys in a position to succeed. It's how he was during his playing career, especially in the latter part of his career, when he wasn't the go-to guy in the lineup, and now, as a manager, he really relishes the opportunity to let the lesser players shine. He finds younger, talented players that not many know about, and creates good matchups.   

Leiter on CC Sabathia:

The biggest thing for CC is to truly accept the fact that he doesn't throw as hard as he used to; that's tough for a pitcher that used to blow people away at 95 MPH. He truly has to believe that he can thrive, if not dominate, with lesser stuff. Jimmy Key, Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and other guys didn't throw hard, but could dominate and were very effective. He has to get into that mentality; you have to believe it, feel it. It's a serious eye-opener when you're hitting only 89-91 MPH and, on a good day, maybe a bit better. We'll see if he can have good command of his fastball, get ahead in the count, and then use his slider or changeup; his belief has to match his ability. Does this mean he can pitch and win 15-20 games this season? Absolutely. 

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