For the second straight year, the New York Yankees will call upon Masahiro Tanaka to be their Opening Day starter.
On Thursday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi announced the news in an interview with YES Network (via Wallace Matthews of ESPN.com). Tanaka will take the mound for the Yankees in their season opener on Monday at Yankee Stadium against reigning American League Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and the Houston Astros.
"I kind of wanted the first four guys to know when their days were and we just went ahead with it," said Girardi, per YES Network (via Matthews). "[Tanaka] feels good. He's confident that he's ready to go.''
The decision by Girardi to go with Tanaka means the Yankees-Astros matchup will be a rematch of last year's AL Wild Card Game. Keuchel and the Astros shut out the Bronx Bombers, 3-0, at Yankee Stadium to move on to the AL Division Series.
An All-Star in 2014, Tanaka opened the Yankees' season last year with a 6-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays. He went only four innings, gave up four earned runs and a home run. Tanaka went on to win seven of his next 11 starts after that.
However, the 27-year-old has had a struggling spring so far, going 1-1 in four starts with a 7.36 ERA after undergoing surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow, per Matthews.
"We weren't exactly sure where he was going to be when he got here and how he was going to react to the surgery, and if he was going to maybe need one more start,'' Girardi said, via Matthews. "That was something that we looked at too, do you give him one more start? But we just felt that he was ready to go.''
Tanaka struggled slightly last year, going 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA as the Yankees' ace. New York's success in 2016, despite the recent acquisitions of shortstop Starlin Castro and closer Aroldis Chapman, will rest on its starting rotation.
The Yankees will rely on Tanaka to have a strong start to 2015, but they will need success from Nathan Eovaldi (14-3 last year) and Michael Pineda (12-10) if a trip back to the postseason is in their plans.
Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.