Yankees' Masahiro Tanaka looks strong in debut after shaky start

Joe Flacco (USATSI)
Masahiro Tanaka gets his Yankee career off on the right foot. (USATSI)

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Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka -- the Japanese import whom they signed to a $155-million contract this offseason -- made his much-anticipated major-league debut on Friday night.

Facing the Blue Jays in Toronto -- and eventual 7-3 win for the Yanks -- Tanaka on the third pitch of his MLB career gave up a homer to Melky Cabrera, but then he settled down nicely. At one point, he retired 12 in a row and 16 of his last 18 batters faced.

In the end, Tanaka worked seven innings while allowing three runs (two earned) and striking out eight batters against no walks. In addition to missing bats, Tanaka also flashed his pitch-to-contact skills, as he induced seven groundouts and also notched a six-pitch fourth inning. In fact, Tanaka logged a total of 39 pitches from the fourth through the seventh inning. That's some serious efficiency. Of his 97 pitches overall, 65 went for strikes. 

As for Tanaka's famously abundant repertoire, it was indeed on display. Check out this chart of his pitch mix against the Jays, courtesy of God's own Brooks Baseball ... 

As you can see, good velocity, an array of offerings, and a healthy dose of fastballs, sliders and ... splitters. 

The splitter is of course Tanaka's out pitch, and he notched his first swinging strike of the night on a splitter to Jose Bautista. On a number of occasions Friday night, you could see how nasty it is and how impossible it is for hitters to resist (it looks like a wheelhouse strike for about the first 53 feet or so, before the bottom falls out). Here's a look at his split-finger grip from Friday night ...

(HT: @DrewGROF)

Considering the pressure Tanaka must have been feeling, that he was facing a dangerous lineup (the Jays last season ranked fourth in the AL in runs scored at home) and how much his command improved as the night went on, his debut was a roundly successful one. 

The expectation is that the Yankees will be getting good return on their investment in Tanaka, and his big-league debut did nothing to dampen that expectation. 

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