Girardi wastes no time tabbing Tanaka for Opening Day

Yankees manager didn't name starter until March 31 last season

Girardi wastes no time tabbing Tanaka for Opening Day

TAMPA, Fla. -- Just 10 minutes into his first news conference of the new season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi confirmed that he expects right-hander Masahiro Tanaka to serve as the Opening Day starter.

It would be the third consecutive Opening Day assignment for the 28-year-old ace, who was 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA in 31 starts last year, setting career highs in wins, innings (199 2/3), starts, strikeouts (165) and quality starts (19).

"Our plan is for him to be the Opening Day starter," Girardi said. "You've got to see where he's at, but I don't really see him being not our Opening Day starter unless something was to arise that I wasn't expecting. He's been the guy that's made the starts and that's kind of our plan."

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Last year, Girardi waited until March 31 to confirm Tanaka's Opening Day assignment, as he struggled in Grapefruit League play coming off surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow.

Tanaka told reporters last week that he believes he is ahead of last year's schedule. He threw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Monday at the Yankees' Minor League complex.

Girardi said pitching coach Larry Rothschild would relay the assignment to Tanaka, who is scheduled to speak to the media on Wednesday following the Yankees' first workout for pitchers and catchers.

New York is scheduled to open the season on April 2 against the Rays at Tropicana Field. It could be a big year for Tanaka, who can opt out of a contract that has three years and $67 million remaining following this season if he'd like to become a free agent.

"You can't really be thinking about that while you go through the season," Tanaka told reporters last week. "I'm really focused on this season. When the time comes after the season, then I'll probably have a chance to think about that more."

Tanaka heads a rotation that features Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia as its other locks. The most prominent contenders for the final two spots are Chance Adams, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, Bryan Mitchell, Luis Severino and Adam Warren.

"I think there's probably more questions to be answered than in the past," Girardi said. "I think there's a lot of quality arms that can fill those spots. You're going to have to make a decision in the seven weeks that we're here and four weeks of competition in games. We'll look at more than just numbers."

Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch and on Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.