Playing in his first game action since returning to the Rakuten Eagles after seven seasons with the New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka allowed three runs over two innings in a practice game against the Nippon Ham Fighters.
Tanaka allowed four hits in the first, including a three-run home run to Nippon Ham Fighters cleanup hitter Sho Nakata, and worked a 1-2-3 second although he said the quality of his pitches didn’t vary much from one inning to the other.
Probably more interesting than his two innings were his answers to reporters questions below.
Here’s my translation of Tanaka’s postgame Q&A after the game as reported by Sponichi Annex:
- –There were no fans in the stands.
- Tanaka: “It’s pretty lonely without fans.”
- —You said you felt just felt strong today.
- Tanaka: “I had more velocity than I thought I would. In regards to that I threw close to 40 pitches over two innings in a game, so it was an extremely good first step.”
- –How was your feel for your pitches facing batters for the first time?
- Tanaka: “Overall, I think I have a lot to do. There are a lot of specific areas where I have lot of work to do.”
- “Going forward in bullpens and so on I want to work on the issues I need to address from today, considering the way I got burned, and make corrections.”
- –It was your first time facing Nakata in a long time.
- Tanaka: “And he hit a home run off me. Just now I saw him behind the stands and he said, ‘Oh Tanaka, it’s been a long time hasn’t it,’ with a big smile on his face. It was the kind of greeting you can get away with from a position of strength.”
- –So you want to face him during the season?
- Tanaka: “Of course, yes.”
- –Going forward, how are you going to raise your game as you approach Opening Day (March 26).
- Tanaka: “I’ve been saying from the start, there’s not just one thing, but today was my first time against hitters, so I’m thinking I need to get better little by little each time.”
- –Is one issue the command of your breaking pitches?
- Tanaka: “Of course that’s an issue with breaking balls, but that also goes for the fastball. I could sense that I am still in the adjustment-making phase.”
- –You got Yuki James Nomura out on a high fastball. Was that according to plan?
- Tanaka: “Well that’s one way. That certainly worked well. I was able to put that ball where I wanted it, and if I do that I hope I can get outs. Unfortunately, my command is not really there yet. The biggest issue has to do with my mechanics, but today I was feeling a lot of different things. It’s a question of whether you can resolve some issues in the bullpen. I think the thing is to just keep putting in the work.”
- –Did you throw your cutter or two-seamer?
- Tanaka: “I did not: curve, slider, split.”
- –How was your feel for your pitches?
- Tanaka: “It was inconsistent most of the time.”
- –You didn’t take the field until it was less than an hour before the start f the game. So you’re doing that the way you did in the States?
- Tanaka: “Right. I haven’t changed from that. Today I went out about 12:10 or 12:15 (for a 1 p.m. start). That’s usual. I didn’t do it that way when I was in Japan (before), but it became my routine over there, and I feel like keeping that here.”
- –Have you changed where you stand on the rubber?
- Tanaka: “No. It’s been the same all along.”
- –You looked like you were concerned about your footing on the mound. Was it different from the bullpen mound?
- Tanaka: “No. They feel the same. The mound in the bullpen and the mound in the game feel the same, but in a game, you’ve got this game energy and you need to harness it, so that makes it different from the bullpen. No. 1, that was how I threw today, and the big thing was taking in all those different sensations.”
- –You touched 148 kph (92 mph). How did that feel?
- Tanaka: “In the seven years since I went to America, I’d never thrown anything but bullpens by this time of the year, so taking that into account, I think I did well. Also, because I’ve been itching to soak up so many things as quickly as I can, in that way I faced batters for the first time today, but most of all I wanted to take in all those different sensations of a real game. It meant something to be allowed to take the mound. Everything was a learning experience.”
- –Is it your hope that you can pitch in one more game while the team is in Okinawa?
- Tanaka: “Looking at the schedule, I suppose it will turn out like that, but you better wait for the skipper to announce that, since what a player says is kind of… you know.”