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Tanaka strikes out three in solid Yankee debut

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fifth inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 1, 2014 in Tampa, Florida
Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies during the fifth inning at George M. Steinbrenner Field on March 1, 2014 in Tampa, Florida

Masahiro Tanaka struck out three and surrendered two hits in two scoreless innings Saturday in his pre-season debut for the New York Yankees in a 4-0 victory over Philadelphia.

Wearing a black jersey with number 19 for his first Major League Baseball outing, the 25-year-old Japanese right-hander pitched the fifth and sixth innings in a relief role behind two other Yankee starters, C.C. Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda.

"I was nervous but it was a really good nervous," Tanaka said through a translator. "It's the first time that the batters faced me. It'll probably be a little bit different the next time around."

Tanaka threw 31 pitches, four under the limit that was set for him in his first outing against opposing club batters, a game telecast live in Japan in the early morning hours.

"Everything is new to me, so for today, I was just trying to locate my pitches where the catcher was holding his glove," Tanaka said.

Tanaka signed a seven-year deal worth $155 million with the Yankees in January after several stellar seasons in Japan.

"I liked the command of his pitches. I was really pleased," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "There doesn't seem to be a lot that fazes him."

The first North American batter Tanaka faced, Philadelphia's Darin Ruf, lined a two-strike single to centerfield.

But Tanaka induced two fly outs to left field and made Cesar Hernandez his first strikeout victim to end the fifth inning.

Tanaka carried a 1-0 lead into the fifth and New York added a run for a 2-0 edge as he returned to the mound in the sixth inning, where he again allowed a hit but also struck out two.

Girardi said he knew Tanaka, who went 24-0 last season for the Japan Series champion Rakuten Eagles, was nervous but was impressed at how composed he seemed on the mound.

"If he didn't (feel nervous) we would know he's not human," Girardi said. "Maybe that's how he went 24-0.

"His demeanor is really good. He has handled the attention well. He has gotten to know some of the guys really well. I think it is working out for him."

Girardi said he wants to have some options in his rotation early in the season that might keep Tanaka from having to pitch every five days, as is customary for North American teams. Japanese starters typically go once a week.

"Until we go through it, I can't tell you how we're going to do it, but we want to have that flexibility," Girardi said.

Tanaka is expected to make his major league regular-season debut for the Yankees in early April in either Houston or Toronto.