First Pitch: Tanaka to take on Halo hitters

Nothing seems to faze Masahiro Tanaka. Will Mike Trout and Albert Pujols do the job? Adam Hunger/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- In his first month with the New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka hasn't seemed to be bothered by anything, whether it was his major league debut, his Yankee Stadium debut or even his first rivalry game at Fenway Park.

Tanaka has impressed with his arm but also with his ability to make a big stage or a big challenge seem perfectly normal.

Now, he gets Mike Trout and Albert Pujols and the national TV stage of ESPN's "Sunday Night Baseball."

Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka

#19 SP
New York Yankees

2014 STATS

  • GM4
  • W3

  • L0

  • BB2

  • K35

  • ERA2.15

It's hard to know if Tanaka considers any of that a big deal. As with almost anything else that has happened in his first season in the major leagues, he downplayed it.

"I did know that [Trout and Pujols] were good batters," Tanaka said Saturday through his interpreter. "But just as I've said with all the other teams we've faced, I've been playing in Japan the last seven years. I'm not that familiar with any of the batters."

With the attention Trout and especially Pujols receive (even in Japan), Sunday's meeting could be a bigger deal than Tanaka lets on. It's hard to blame him for playing it down, given how that strategy has worked for him so far.

Tanaka has watched video of Pujols and Trout, as he does with any team he's about to face. He's also been able to see what they can do in person the past two days, with Pujols hitting a home run off Hiroki Kuroda on Friday night and Trout homering off Vidal Nuno on Saturday afternoon.

Tanaka said Saturday that seeing two games before he pitches makes no difference, though.

"I feel it's no advantage," he said.

In any case, Tanaka said he tends to follow the lead of catcher Brian McCann and also to watch how batters react to his pitches. That's what he has done through his first four major league starts, and with a 3-0 record and 2.15 ERA, there's not yet any reason to change.

Besides, it's no doubt harder for the hitters seeing Tanaka for the first time live than it is for him having seen them only on video.

He watches plenty, and, yes, he paid attention to the first baseman and the center fielder when he was preparing to face the Angels.

"I can tell they're really good batters," Tanaka said. "But the truth is I haven't had a chance to face them yet, so it's really hard to make any assessment. But looking on film, I can tell they're really good batters."

Looking at their career stats, and even just their April numbers this season, anyone can tell that.

Now, they're the latest challenge for Tanaka as he begins his big league odyssey. Maybe he considers it a big deal, or maybe he's as unexcited about it as he'd have us believe.

Through four starts, what we've learned about Tanaka is that he's unlikely to be overwhelmed by the challenge.