Tanaka appears lined up to pitch Opening Day

After righty struggles vs. Nats, Girardi says his next start is important

Tanaka appears lined up to pitch Opening Day

VIERA, Fla. -- Yankees manager Joe Girardi offered his strongest hint yet that Masahiro Tanaka will be the team's Opening Day starter.

"You can draw it out and see where he lines up," Girardi said prior to Wednesday night's 13-0 defeat against the Nationals. "It really comes down to how he's feeling after these next few starts. As long as he's OK, you could surmise that."

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The Yankees have been reluctant to officially name Tanaka their Opening Day starter in part because they want to be sure he is healthy after having offseason surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow. But Tanaka has reported no discomfort thus far, and the Yankees no longer believe it is an issue.

Tanaka got hit hard in his latest outing against the Nationals. He was tagged for seven runs on nine hits in four innings, saying his stuff felt flat and that he left too many pitches up in the zone.

"Obviously, I gave up too [many] hits," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "That wasn't the results that I wanted. The positive I can take is to get these kind of outings out of the way in Spring Training and not bring that into the regular season."

It marks back-to-back tough outings for Tanaka, who also labored a bit in his last start against the Pirates. He lines up for one more start ahead of the regular-season opener against the Astros at Yankee Stadium on April 4, and Girardi said he would like to see Tanaka turn in a strong outing before the season begins.

"I think it's important," Girardi said. "His next start obviously is really important, because you want players to feel good about themselves going into the season. He's got a big week of work ahead of him to get going."

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