Masahiro Tanaka set for pre-season debut with New York Yankees

AFP| Updated: Mar 02, 2014, 00:16 AM IST

Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka makes his first game appearance for the New York Yankees on Saturday when they host Philadelphia in a Major League Baseball pre-season game.

Three weeks before the six-month major league campaign begins with games in Australia, the 25-year-old right-hander will enter the game in the fifth inning in a relief effort.

While Tanaka is expected to command a key spot in the Yankees` starting lineup, the relief appearance is designed to provide a brief look at how he is handling pre-season workouts with an eye to starting assignments later in March.

"I understand there`s going to be a lot of attention on the results, the numbers of what I do out there," Tanaka said through a translator in a posting on the team`s website.

"But for me, I`m not looking at it at all. I just want to go out there and pitch my style and see how it is on the mound.

"At this point, I can`t really think of anything that I`m having some difficulty adjusting to."

Tanaka signed a seven-year contract worth $155 million with the Yankees in January after going 24-0 last year in leading the Rakuten Eagles to the Japan Series crown.

C.C. Sabathia will start and Japan`s Hiroki Kuroda will enter in the third inning as Yankees manager Joe Girardi tests all of his planned starters.

"Hopefully he keeps his emotions in check," Girardi said. "That`s what you worry about a little bit, trying to do too much.

"Players a lot of times want to validate contracts. Japanese-born players, I think there`s a certain amount of pride. They feel they are pitching for their whole country sometimes and that can be a bit much."

Girardi says it is "pretty safe to say" that Tanaka`s first regular-season start for the Yankees will come in the Yankees` third or fourth game of the campaign, either April 3 at Houston or April 4 at Toronto.