Tanaka, Betances dominate hitters in live BP

Tanaka, Betances dominate hitters in live BP

TAMPA, Fla. -- Pitchers are generally ahead of hitters at this point of the spring, but for Brett Gardner and Chase Headley, taking their first at-bats of the year against Dellin Betances and Masahiro Tanaka proved to be an especially unfair matchup.

The Yankees right-handers worked crisply and efficiently on a back diamond of the George M. Steinbrenner Field complex on Thursday morning, preparing for their respective assignments. Betances is gearing up to pitch for the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, while Tanaka is eyeing his third consecutive Opening Day start.

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"I thought their location was pretty good," Gardner said. "They seemed to be executing their pitches the way they wanted to, and the balls seemed to be coming out pretty well."

Chad Green and Johnny Barbato also worked to a hitting group comprised of Gardner, Headley and Chris Carter. Betances said he started to experience some fatigue toward the end of the session, but by moving his timetable up for the Classic, he hopes to be stronger for the beginning of the season.

"I'm ramping it up. My arm strength is probably not 100 percent, but I'm definitely ramping it up," Betances said. "Obviously, you get a little more adrenaline. You try to work on certain pitches and kind of read their swings. It's just a different feel."

Betances said he will leave for the Classic on March 5 and hopes to pitch in two or three Grapefruit League games before then. Betances already looks close to form; Gardner said Betances dotted five consecutive perfect pitches to him at one point.

Masahiro is the Yanks' hero

For Headley, it marked his first time seeing live pitching since last season, which is why he practically jumped for joy after barreling up one of Tanaka's sinkers.

"He looked like himself," Headley said. "It looked like the ball was coming out easy. I think that's what you look for this time of year."

Catcher Kyle Higashioka said Tanaka appears ahead of where he was at this time last year, when the Yankees were proceeding cautiously as he came off surgery to remove a bone spur from his pitching elbow.

"He had all his pitches working, got a couple of strikeouts," Higashioka said. "He was looking really good; cutter was good, slider was good. The splitter was really nasty, and his location was as good as ever. I think he's looking really good."

Headley said he is thankful he will spend the rest of the year viewing both pitchers from a defensive position.

"(Betances) threw a couple of breaking balls to me that looked good," Headley said. "I haven't seen him a lot from the batter's box so it's hard to judge, but it's uncomfortable, for sure. He's got some funk to him and obviously the stuff is plus-plus. I have no idea how hard he was throwing; it looked like he was throwing really hard to me."

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.