Baseball: Yankees' Tanaka honored to be Opening Day starter again

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New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka said Wednesday he was honored to have been selected to start for the team on Opening Day for the third year in a row.

The Yankees announced the previous day that the 28-year-old Tanaka would start for the visiting Yankees in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on April 2.

Speaking after his first day at spring training, Tanaka said: "It's an honor. I know exactly where I will be pitching so I can work towards that day by improving my condition through spring training. This gives me something to aim for."

Tanaka will be hoping for a reversal of fortunes, having never won on Opening Day.

In the Yankees' 2015 season opener against the Toronto Blue Jays, Tanaka lasted only four innings and took a loss, and in the 2016 season opener against the Houston Astros, he threw 5-2/3 innings in a no-decision.

"The team itself has not won on Opening Day for five years so hopefully I can help end that streak," said Tanaka. "Compared to the last three years my preparation has gone much smoother and at this point in time I think I am in my best shape."

Speaking of his goals for the season, Tanaka said, "I want to keep my place in the rotation the year round and pitch as many innings and get as many outs as I can."

"The top pitchers in the league are going to pitch around 220, 230 innings so that is what I am going to aim for."

Should Tanaka take to the mound against Tampa as scheduled, he will become the first Japanese pitcher to be a starter in a season opener for three straight years in the majors.

Hideo Nomo was also named the Opening Day starter three times, but not in consecutive years. He first earned the honor in 2000 with the Detroit Tigers, and was named again in 2003 and 2004 with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In his three years as a Yankee, Tanaka is 39-16 with a 3.12 ERA in 75 starts. He went 14-4 in 31 starts with a 3.07 ERA and MLB career-high 165 strikeouts last season.

==Kyodo

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