Yankees easing Tanaka into new schedule

Yankees easing Tanaka into new schedule

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."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.