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Yankees opening day starter Tanaka says to expect his velocity to be down this season

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WASHINGTON — New York Yankees opening day starter Masahiro Tanaka says his fastball speed could be down this season as he makes adjustments to the way he throws.

"I'm trying to establish a certain pitching style for me this year, so maybe it isn't the wisest to ask for velocity from me," Tanaka said through a translator on Saturday, when the Yankees played their exhibition finale against the Washington Nationals.

On Monday, the Japanese right-hander will pitch in New York's regular-season opener at home against the Toronto Blue Jays, and he noted that he'll be using more two-seam fastballs than four-seamers.

"Because of the fact that I'm throwing more two-seamers, that would obviously make the velocity go down," Tanaka said. "As for my pitching style, talking about my mechanics, I'm trying to relax a little bit more when I'm throwing, so that might have to do with it a little bit."

Manager Joe Girardi said the extra two-seamers could help, although he thinks Tanaka's four-seamer remains a key pitch.

PHOTO: New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, walks off the field after he delivers against the Minnesota Twins in the second inning during an exhibition spring training baseball game, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, walks off the field after he delivers against the Minnesota Twins in the second inning during an exhibition spring training baseball game, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

"The change in velocity helps. That's part of deception, changing speeds on your fastball, and some guys are really good at it. It comes really natural for them," Girardi said. "And I think it's important for him."

Tanaka went 13-5 with a 2.77 ERA last season and finished fifth in AL Rookie of the Year voting, despite being hurt for much of the second half. He was sidelined for about 2 1/2 months because of inflammation in his right elbow.

"I think that quick outs would be good for him, because he gets in a lot of strikeout counts, and when you strike people out, your pitch count can mount fairly quickly. Obviously for all pitchers, quick innings are important," Girardi said. "Short term, long term, over the course of the year, and if he can get some quick outs, I think it's great."

Asked Saturday how his arm feels, Tanaka replied: "Just like I told you guys after the last game of spring training, I feel fine. And I feel ready to go."

As for getting the start on opening day, he said: "It's going to be the first time for me, so honestly, I'm not sure how I'm going to feel. But what I know is, it's going to be a special environment."


Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich


AP freelance writer Ian Quillen contributed to this report.

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PHOTO: New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka delivers against the Minnesota Twins in the first inning during an exhibition spring training baseball game, Tuesday, March 31, 2015, in Fort Myers, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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