3/15/2014 5:42 P.M. ET
Yankees easing Tanaka into new schedule
By Adam Berry / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Masahiro Tanaka is preparing for his start Sunday against the Braves at George M. Steinbrenner Field, but Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild dropped a few hints Saturday that may indicate when Tanaka will make his Major League debut.
New York is still easing Tanaka into the every-fifth-day schedule of a big league starter, and the club will look for opportunities this season to provide the Japanese right-hander with a little extra rest. Rothschild said the Yankees will "try to keep him strong through the year -- more of the schedule, not that he's used to, but morphed into something between both as he gets used to it."
Rothschild said the fact that the Yankees will play 13 straight games before their first scheduled day off will impact when they decide to use Tanaka. With that in mind, it would seem that Tanaka will start the fourth game of the season, April 4 at Toronto.
Tanaka said he hasn't discussed when he'll make his first start, and Rothschild and manager Joe Girardi haven't officially set up their rotation schedule yet.
"Once the season starts it's going to be every fifth day, so I'm making adjustments toward that," Tanaka said Saturday through an interpreter. "If there's an extra day, I'm obviously happy with that, but I'm adjusting toward going every fifth day. Just one day extra to work on a little bit something extra might help, but basically I'm just adjusting to an every-five-days rotation."
Still, Rothschild said Tanaka probably will get an extra day off after Sunday's start, when he's scheduled to throw 60 to 75 pitches against the Braves. The 25-year-old right-hander worked on his splitter since his last outing, and Rothschild has been impressed with how eager Tanaka is to face hitters -- yet not over-eager to the point where he's throwing too much between starts.
Tanaka said he hasn't had any trouble adjusting to the bigger baseballs in America, either. He noted that they might cause his offspeed pitches to move more than they did in Japan, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be more effective.
"At this point, it's really hard to say because we haven't played that much," Tanaka said. "The one thing I try to not do is make offspeed pitches get bigger bites, because that could lead to messing up my pitch form."
Tanaka should be able to make three more starts in Spring Training before the season begins. When asked whether he'll use those outings to work on specific pitches or situations before rounding into regular-season form, Tanaka showed that he's still learning how to adjust to a big league schedule.
"I really haven't experienced pitching in a regular season here yet, so it's kind of hard to say," he said. "But basically every time I go up on the mound, it is like a regular season to me. I just try to do my best."
Nuno works on secondary pitches against O's
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Yankees left-hander Vidal Nuno mixed things up a bit against the Orioles on Saturday, cutting back on his fastball and throwing more offspeed pitches, but he continued to get results as he competes for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Nuno allowed one hit and a walk and struck out three Orioles hitters in four scoreless innings of work. The 26-year-old lefty has given up just one run on 11 hits in eight innings this spring, with six of those innings coming in Grapefruit League play and the other two in an exhibition against Florida State University.
He threw only 58 pitches and worked quickly on Saturday, letting the Yankees' defense do most of the work behind him.
"Nuno was terrific. That's what he does. He works fast, throws strikes, changes speed behind in the count, throws all his pitches for strikes," acting manager Rob Thomson said. "And he's a valuable guy because he can pick up a lot of innings out of the bullpen, he can start and he can get lefties out. So he's a versatile guy. ... He's really good. He knows how to pitch."
Nuno said he shied away from his fastball in order to mix in his breaking ball, cutter and changeup. Thomson noted that opposing hitters don't take great swings against Nuno's fastball, and he even got Steve Pearce to swing and miss at one for a strikeout to end his final inning. So, why make that change?
"I'm not a flamethrower," Nuno said. "They've seen the other side of me, mixing it in, and that's how I got them off-balance. Yeah, I'd fall behind in the count and not put them away early, but there's again that routine and just being positive with it. ... It's just mixing pitches, not using my fastball that much, locating better and just having that confidence."
This spring has been different for Nuno than a year ago, when he won the 2013 James P. Dawson Award for the most outstanding Yankees rookie in Spring Training. He's more confident in his abilities after proving last season that he's capable of pitching in the Majors, and he's fighting for a spot on the Opening Day roster.
While Nuno admitted he's inspired by the way the other candidates are pitching, he said he hasn't let the competition with Michael Pineda, David Phelps and Adam Warren affect his approach this spring.
"It motivates me," Nuno said. "Pretty much, you're just having a good time being around the guys, and whatever happens, happens. Let the front office decide who's going to do what and where."
• Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann, Eduardo Nunez and Mark Teixeira were scheduled to stay back at George M. Steinbrenner Field on Saturday to take batting practice and work out. All four players are expected to be in the starting lineup for Sunday afternoon's game against the Braves.
• Second baseman Brian Roberts took a foul ball off the inside of his knee but said he was fine before playing six innings in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Orioles. Roberts went 2-for-3 and impressed Thomson defensively as well.
"Brian Roberts was great," the acting manager said. "Robby made a great play up the middle on a backhand play."
• Kelly Johnson made three strong plays at third base Saturday as he continues to adjust to playing the position full-time. Thomson observed that Johnson, who's spent most of his career at second base with some time in left field, looks more comfortable at third base than he did earlier this spring.
"He's done a lot of work with Mick [Kelleher, the Yankees' first-base/infield coach]," Thomson said. "Almost every day they've been on that back field one-on-one, doing stuff, reading ground balls, topspin ground balls and being able to move his feet and create the proper hop. He's coming along fine."
• Infielder Russ Canzler was scratched from the starting lineup Friday for precautionary reasons due to hip stiffness. Thomson said Canzler was "feeling better" on Saturday, but "we'll see when we'll get him out on the field." Canzler was scheduled to receive treatment on Saturday.