Manager Joe Girardi made the announcement during an interview with the YES Network during his team's 9-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in their home spring training finale.
Tanaka will face Dallas Keuchel, last season's AL Cy Young Award winner, in the 1:05 p.m. game, which will be a reprise of the Yankees brief postseason appearance last October, a 3-0 Astros victory in the wild-card play-in game. Tanaka took that loss, allowing two runs, both on solo home runs, in five innings.
The choice of Tanaka to start the opener was not surprising, although the timing of Girardi's announcement was curious, since the manager had said he wanted to see Tanaka throw a bullpen session Friday before making his final decision.
"He felt good today,'' Girardi said. "I kind of wanted the first four guys to know when their days were and we just went ahead with it. He feels good. He's confident that he's ready to go.''
Tanaka last pitched on Tuesday, working four innings in which he allowed seven hits and one run in a game that was eventually canceled due to heavy rain and lightning. In four spring starts, Tanaka was 1-1 with a 7.36 ERA, allowing 16 hits and three home runs in 11 innings.
Girardi said part of the reason for the delay in naming Tanaka his Opening Day starter was due to his recovery from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow.
"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. "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 started last year's opener, taking the loss in a 6-1 defeat to the Toronto Blue Jays at Yankee Stadium. Tanaka allowed five runs (four earned) in four innings in that game, including a two-run home run to Edwin Encarnacion. He finished the 2015 season at 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA.