"I'd probably ask him for a handshake," Tanaka said.
Tanaka, who has been designated the Yankees Opening Day starter, was not angered in the least by the comments concerning his health made by Martinez on a radio show on Wednesday. On the contrary, Tanaka seemed flattered that Pedro thought enough of him to bother expressing an opinion.
“First, I feel kind of honored because a player of that stature is talking about me," Tanaka said in the Yankees clubhouse Thursday morning. "I was a little bit surprised by that and kind of feel honored by that. But I understand that everybody has their opinion about certain things, about the way I pitch. But for me, I know where I’m at, and I feel good, so I think that’s the most important. I feel good.”
So in a single sentence, Tanaka accomplished three goals: He paid tribute to Pedro's prowess as a pitcher, demonstrated his own humility, and completely rejected Martinez's belief that Tanaka would never make it through the season with a partially-torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow.
“I don’t see him healthy all year,” Martinez told Adam Schein on SiriusXM's Mad Dog Sports Radio. “And I don’t see him healthy right now. I’ll be brave enough to say he’s not completely healthy right now.”
Pedro went on to opine that Tanaka was hesitant to let his fastball go, and noted an unusual number of hanging curveballs from him this spring.
Tanaka was aware of Martinez's words; they had crossed the Pacific Ocean, and the language barrier, on Wednesday and were relayed back to him by some of the Japanese reporters who cover the Yankees. "It made it onto the Japanese news," Tanaka said.
Tanaka struggled in his last two starts of the spring, especially his last outing against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday, in which he allowed three runs in 4-1/3 innings, including a long home run by Eduardo Escobar. And his fastball velocity has been down all spring, reaching a high of 92 MPH in the game; last year, his four-seam fastball occasionally touched 97.
“The only pitch he is committing to is the split finger and his problems are actually in a place where you don’t need to put any more stress, which is the elbow," Martinez said. "And he’s hesitant. He’s hesitating to throw his fastball and he’s hanging every breaking ball he’s throwing out there. Plus, his velocity is not there yet."
But Tanaka said his relatively low number of four-seam fastballs this spring was part of a preconceived plan. “I was working on my two-seamer. As for my mechanics, I was trying to have my body in a sense relax a little bit more when I’m throwing. Maybe that is why it might look that way," he said.
He acknowledged holding something back on his fastball this spring, but said, "I've been throwing (97) in the past, and if I wanted to, I could."
As for Martinez' observations on his breaking ball, one of which Escobar hit for his home run, Tanaka said, "I think Pedro was looking at specifically the last game that I was pitching, and obviously as you guys know too, my stuff wasn’t the sharpest that day. The games prior to that, I felt my breaking balls were there. In the bullpen, I’ve been throwing them pretty well, so I’m not really worried about that either. Also, I was being able to get some swings for misses too, so I’m pretty confident where I am with my breaking balls.”
Tanaka also had an opinion of his own to share regarding Martinez's ability to get through his first season as a baseball television analyst. "I think he'll be fine,'' Tanaka said, with a laugh.