For Masahiro Tanaka, the offseason featured a round of unprecedented bids from big league organizations, the fielding of massive expectations and the challenge of managing intense scrutiny during his seven-week Spring Training camp with the Yankees.
That anticipation has all been building for this moment. Tanaka is scheduled to make his Major League debut on Friday night against the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, providing a fascinating subplot and a worldwide television audience for Toronto's home opener.
"I feel honored that I'm getting this sort of attention," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "For me, it's just going up on the mound and trying to get outs."
The Yankees invested $175 million in Tanaka, viewing him as a ready-made fit to upgrade their rotation coming off a third-place season. The 25-year-old right-hander came with hype and the numbers to support it, going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan's Pacific League.
Rakuten found no shortage of big league clubs ready to pony up a $20 million posting fee to talk with Tanaka, but it was the Yankees who brought the biggest bid to the table. Tanaka agreed to a seven-year, $155 million contract in January, and the Yankees were pleased with how easy Tanaka's transition appears to have gone.
"From what I watched -- I watched his tapes and stuff -- this was a guy that knew how to pitch," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I don't put expectations as far as wins, but I do think of him as a guy who knows how to pitch. I think he's going to do well."
Tanaka features a splitter that is rated as world-class, as well as fastballs that can inch up to 96-97 mph but usually sit around 91-92 mph. He also throws a curveball, slider, changeup and cutter.
Tanaka said that he has been going over the Blue Jays' hitters and is "sure I will be amped up a little bit" for Friday's start, "but not to the point where I'm worried about that."
Blue Jays right-hander Dustin McGowan gets the undercard in this mound duel. The 32-year-old will be making his first start in 2 1/2 years due to numerous injuries, and McGowan said that he is looking forward to embracing the energy in the building.
"I'm going to be jacked up. I'm excited," McGowan said. "I keep thinking about it every day and I know when that day gets here it's going to be special, and I'm going to be ready for it. I'll have to calm myself down but it's good to have it pumping sometimes, gives you a little bit extra sometimes."
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said that his team is looking forward to escaping Florida after opening their season with four games against the Rays at Tropicana Field. After dropping two of three to the Astros in Houston, Girardi is expecting an electric scene to greet Tanaka and the Yankees in Toronto.
"I would think it will be quite an atmosphere, especially it being their Opening Day and how much attention has been on Tanaka," Girardi said. "It should be quite an atmosphere."
Yankees: Robertson passes first test/br>
For most of his big league career, David Robertson has been spoiled by having the safety net of knowing that Mariano Rivera is sitting a few hundred feet away in the bullpen. Now that the all-time saves leader has retired, Robertson passed his first test with aplomb.
Robertson pitched a perfect ninth inning as the Yankees posted their first win of the year on Thursday against the Astros in Houston, preserving a 4-2 lead. Robertson kept the ball from the save, the ninth of his career, but said that it did not feel overly significant.
"I felt like I got three outs and the game was over," Robertson said. "It was the same thing. I try to treat it just like it's the eighth inning; get three outs, and it used to be hand the ball to Mo. Now I guess it's turn around and high-five."
Blue Jays: Keeping them in the yard
Brandon Morrow allowed a home run to Evan Longoria in the Blue Jays' 7-2 loss to the Rays on Thursday, which marked the first homer of the season allowed by a Toronto pitcher.
The Blue Jays had not allowed a home run in each of their first three games of the season, which was the third-longest streak to start a season in franchise history.
The only two longer streaks were in 1989 and 1999, when Toronto went five games to start the year.
• Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter enters play on Thursday with 3,318 career hits, good for ninth place on baseball's all-time list. He needs one hit to tie Paul Molitor (3,319) for eighth place on the all-time list, and fourth place on the American League all-time hits list.
• The Yankees have three Japan-born players on their active roster in Tanaka, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki. They have had four other Japan-born players in their history: Hideki Irabu (1997-99), Hideki Matsui (2003-09), Kei Igawa (2007-08) and Ryota Igarashi (2012).
• Yankees infielder Yangervis Solarte, who was 3-for-3 with a walk, double, RBI and two runs scored in his first Major League start on Thursday, is the first Yankee to have at least three hits and an RBI in one of his first two career games since Oscar Azocar in 1990.
• The Blue Jays homered in their first three games to start the season, their longest such streak since 2011, when they hit homers in five straight games. Seven of Toronto's 11 runs during their four-game series against the Rays were scored via the home run.