The New York Yankees have invested a ton of cash in Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. But through two spring training appearances, the blockbuster signing appears on schedule in helping to bring the Bronx Bombers back to life in 2014.
Although the highly touted right-hander can't patch up all of New York's issues, his immense potential and early success this March bodes well for the Yankees' postseason hopes next fall.
On Thursday, Tanaka earned his first start for the Pinstripes, giving up just two hits and one earned run over three innings of action in a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies.
The lone run surrendered came on a homer by Freddy Galvis with two outs in the third inning. The strong performance means that Tanaka has given up just one earned run and four hits in five innings pitched this preseason.
Keep in mind that he's yet to walk a single batter.
In addition to his encouraging production, Tanaka's confidence and desire to go up against the Major Leagues' best is excellent news for the Yankees. The 25-year-old expressed excitement over his first start for that exact reason on Thursday, per ESPNNewYork.com's Andrew Marchand:
I'll be able to face some of the better, or some of the first-string batters. I'd like to go up there and see how I can pitch against those batters.
Although Galvis' homer marred an otherwise impressive starting debut for Tanaka, the newly-acquired star was able to throw 25 strikes on 41 total pitches. Thus far, the Yankees have to be pleased with their investment and the command he's shown. After all, Tanaka has a deep arsenal that features seven solid pitches.
Sure, it's only spring training and World Series titles aren't won in March. But with so much hype surrounding Tanaka since January's signing—and so much pressure on him and the Yankees to succeed right away—Masahiro's early display of poise and precision bode extremely well for New York's 2014 campaign.
The American League East projects to be the toughest division in baseball again this season, but with Tanaka gaining confidence and momentum with each appearance, the Yankees will have a dynamic weapon to push them over the top in 2014.
With Derek Jeter calling it a career at season's end and the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time in five years last season, the AL East powerhouse certainly won't be lacking motivation this season.
Therefore, Tanaka's growth from the spring through September projects to be the X-factor for the Yankees. And early on, he's proven to be a positive one.