Following Solid Spring, Japanese Right-Hander To Make First Start Friday In Toronto

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — For the Yankees to be what their fans expect them to be this season, their pitching will have to be exceptional. One hurler in particular will have a high-powered microscope viewing his every move.

Masahiro Tanaka will make his major league debut on Friday in Toronto and former All-Star Al Leiter told the New York Post recently that he must be as advertised over the course of 30 or so starts if the Bombers have any designs on winning a championship.

“Along with the money and the hype that goes with it, he has to be one of the front-end starters for them to compete,” said Leiter, who went 162-132 with a 3.80 ERA for four teams during his 19-year career. “I don’t know whether that’s 1, 2, or 3. Any team that wants to go deep into the playoffs and win a World Series needs three quality starters. For the Yankees to compete in the East he has to be quality and that’s 200-plus innings, an ERA in the 3’s and a 15-plus wins.”

Tanaka, who signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees after dominating Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan for several years, looked good in spring training, pitching to a 2.14 ERA with 26 strikeouts over 21 innings. He showed off a full array of weapons that could give opponents fits early, mostly due to the fact that no one has ever seen him before.

Leiter said there is no denying that Tanaka’s stuff is every bit major league-worthy.

“Watching some of his games, he’s going to be 92-94 (mph), which puts you above the speed limit,” Leiter told the Post. “The split-finger that he throws, and I know that’s a popular pitch among the Japanese pitchers, it’s very good. It’s a wipeout-type split-finger that has a lot of action on it. He has a good curveball, I wouldn’t say it’s great. The slider is also good. But he has that splitter that even when guys are even looking for it they can’t hit it.”

The one factor that could impact Tanaka’s performance is the adjustment to Major League Baseball, but Leiter said players that come from the Far East, specifically pitchers, have done a better job in recent years learning the ropes at a quicker pace.

“These players today have a much better understanding of what American baseball is all about. They followed the [Hideo] Nomos, the Ichiros, the [Hideki] Matsuis and they were thinking about being the next one to come over here. So, the transition for a guy like Tanaka is easier,” Leiter said.

Adding potentially more intrigue to Tanaka’s debut is the fact that he may take the mound with the Yankees still in search of their first win of the season. New York will try to avoid being swept when it concludes its three-game series with Houston on Thursday night.

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