Not official, but Tanaka in line to start opener

Girardi wants to see how righty bounces back from Grapefruit League outings

Not official, but Tanaka in line to start opener

BRADENTON, Fla. -- All signs point to the Yankees setting up Masahiro Tanaka to make his second consecutive Opening Day start, but manager Joe Girardi said on Thursday that he is not ready to make an official announcement.

"We've got to see how he bounces back after we build up his pitch count a little bit," Girardi said. "My thought process now is I don't anticipate it being a problem, but let's just wait and see."

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After not allowing a run over five innings in his first two Grapefruit League starts, Tanaka allowed two runs -- one on a home run by Andrew McCutchen -- over two innings against the Pirates on Thursday during the Yankees' 7-2 win.

Tanaka labored, requiring 50 pitches (30 strikes) to get through the two frames. He said that he was "a bit frustrated" because he was unable to hit spots with his fastball and splitter, something that also affected him in his last outing against the Orioles.

"Just getting my third year of Spring Training in, you know that you'll have bad days like this," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "The good part is to get those bad days out in Spring Training rather than in the season. Through experience, I think that I've progressed enough to think that way."

Yankees catcher Brian McCann said that Tanaka's stuff and velocity seemed to be present on Thursday, even if the command wasn't.

"Fastball command is everything," McCann said. "It sets up all your other pitches. When he's got his fastball command, he gets early outs. Today, it was off a little bit."

Tanaka projects to have two spring efforts remaining before the Yankees open the regular season at Yankee Stadium on April 4 against the Astros. He could be ready to take the ball with one extra day of rest between each spring start, and Tanaka said that should be enough time to iron out the mechanical issues.

"At this point in Spring Training -- for all of us -- you get the next hurdle, then the next hurdle," McCann said. "He cleared one today. Next time, he'll pitch hopefully four or five innings. The most important thing is health, and he looks great."

Upon reporting to Spring Training, Tanaka expressed some hesitation about an Opening Day assignment, saying that he needed to see how his right elbow would feel following offseason surgery to remove a bone spur, but that concern seems to have dissipated. Tanaka has reported no discomfort thus far.

Girardi added that Tanaka's fastball velocity -- a hot topic last spring, when the hurler was coming back a year after sustaining a partial tear of his ulnar collateral ligament -- has not been an issue.

"I think he's just trying to get ready. He's not too worried about results," Girardi said. "He's working on things. When you're established as a starter or a position player, you can do those things. Some of the other guys have to compete."

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.