Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka says he's ready for Yankees intensity
AFP February 13, 2014, 12:02 am TWN
NEW YORK--Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka donned his New York Yankees jersey for the first time on Tuesday and declared himself ready for the intensity and pressure of Major League Baseball.
"I'm very happy to be a Yankee," Tanaka said. "Now that I'm here and wearing this uniform, I really feel that I have become a member of the New York Yankees."
Tanaka signed a seven-year contract worth US$155 million with the Yankees last month and was introduced at Yankee Stadium three days before he is set to report to the team's pre-season training camp in Florida.
"I feel ready," Tanaka said.
The 25-year-old right-hander was confident he could handle the glare of the New York spotlight and the pressure to make America's most successful championship sports team a success once more.
"I've heard this place could be very harsh to you at times," Tanaka said. "I wanted to put myself in this environment and see where I can get to with my ability."
Asked his goal, Tanaka said simply, "To win the world championship."
Rejecting offers from several other clubs to sign an epic deal with the Yankees, Tanaka said he looked forward to his first opportunity to face the Yankees' arch-rivals, the reigning World Series champion Boston Red Sox.
"Just by watching on television, the Yankees-Red Sox games, you can see how intense the games are," Tanaka said. "I'm very much looking forward to playing in that environment."
Tanaka has shown he can handle pressure in Japan, last year leading the Rakuten Eagles to the Japan Series crown by going 24-0 — the most wins by a Japan League pitcher since 1978 — with a 1.27 earned-run average.
Yankees scouts had watched Tanaka with interest for years and club owner Hal Steinbrenner followed with one of the richest contracts for any pitcher in baseball history.
"It always starts with pitching. If you don't have pitching you are going to have a hard time winning on a consistent basis," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
"I'm thankful Hal and his family opened their pocketbooks and enabled us to obtain a very big piece of the puzzle that will hopefully get us back to where we have been."
Tanaka is expected to serve as the third starter in the Yankees' rotation behind ace C.C. Sabathia and Japan's Hiroki Kuroda.
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman tried to downplay expectations for Tanaka, saying "there is definitely some unknown because of the transition" and it would be "asking too much" to expect instant stardom for Tanaka in North America despite his hefty salary and Japanese success.
"I just feel that it's very important for me to try and make that adjustment," Tanaka said. "I have not faced anybody here. Just basically looking forward to facing anybody."
Yankees pitchers and catchers are due to report to the team's pre-season workout complex in Tampa on Friday with their first workout set for Saturday.
Tanaka will be the seventh Japanese-born player in Yankees history and make them the first North American club with two Japanese pitchers in the same starting rotation since Hideo Nomo and Kaz Ishii for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2004.
Tanaka, who spent almost US$200,000 to charter a huge plane to fly himself and his family to New York, said he spoke with former Yankee star Hideki Matsui over the phone about the challenge he would face adapting to New York.
"He just basically told me how good this city was," Tanaka said.
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