ST. PETERSBURG -- Even after receiving the honor of season-opening assignments on two continents, Masahiro Tanaka still expects to be joined by some familiar butterflies when he walks to the mound in the bottom of the first inning on Sunday at Tropicana Field.
"I do get nervous, but it's a good nervousness," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "You want to try to work that to your advantage. Yeah, there's some nervousness there, but it's a good one."
Tanaka is making his third Opening Day start for the Yankees, coming off a spring in which he led the Majors with a 0.38 ERA. In six spring starts, Tanaka posted a miniscule 0.59 WHIP, striking out 28 while allowing just nine hits and five walks over 23 2/3 innings.
"It's a special day for baseball, the very first day of the season," Tanaka said. "I think it's an exciting day for the organization, for the fans and for myself as well."
As Tanaka comes off a season in which he went 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA that ranked third in the American League, the Yankees hope that their ace picks up right where he left off, leading a rotation that appears otherwise suspect.
"I think it's really important," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's been really consistent, the three years that we've had him, and that's all we're asking him to continue to be. Not any more. Don't feel like you have to do more. Just go out and continue to pitch the way that you've pitched. If we give him good run support, he's going to win a lot of games."
Tanaka is seeking his first Opening Day win with the Yanks, having taken a loss against the Blue Jays on April 6, 2015, and a no-decision against the Astros on April 5, 2016.
Tanaka is 6-0 with a 2.82 ERA in eight career starts against the Rays, and he has won all three career starts at Tropicana Field, though he points out that it hasn't always been easy -- he served up a career-high four homers, all solo shots, in an 11-5 win last Sept. 21.
"I think I'm over it from the home runs, but I did study it," Tanaka said. "You've got to look back and study what you did wrong and what you did right. Obviously, some of the things I did in that particular game were wrong. I did study it and I understand the adjustments that need to be made. I feel confident going into this game."
The Yankees received left-hander Tyler Webb as a Rule 5 Draft return from the Pirates and assigned him to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Webb, 26, was 4-3 with a 3.59 ERA in 72 2/3 innings for the RailRiders last season, striking out 10.2 batters per nine innings.
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.