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Tanaka set for pre-season debut with Yankees
AFP Tanaka set for pre-season debut with Yankees

Tampa (AFP) - 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.