"First and foremost, I'm very happy to be given that position," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "That last outing was very important for me. I think I was able to throw the ball the way I wanted to, so with that, I think that gave me more confidence going into the season."
Though Tanaka has been lined up to start the opener for weeks, Girardi said that the Yankees held off on confirming the assignment so they could continue to judge his recovery from offseason surgery that removed a bone spur from his pitching elbow.
Girardi also challenged Tanaka to "dial it up" in his final spring start, responding with four innings of one-run ball against the Phillies. That game was rained out, so the stats didn't count in a spring that Tanaka wrapped with a 7.36 ERA (nine runs and 16 hits in 11 innings).
"The last two years, he's pitched pretty well for us," Girardi said. "We weren't exactly sure where he was going to be when he got here and how he was going to react to the surgery, and if he was going to maybe need one more start. We just felt that he was ready to go."
Tanaka was 12-7 with a 3.51 ERA in 24 starts last season. He is 25-12 with a 3.16 ERA in 44 big league starts.
Girardi said that Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi will start the second and third games of the regular season against Houston, with Luis Severino set to take the Friday start against the Tigers in Detroit and CC Sabathia starting in Detroit on Saturday.
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. 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.