But in the moments that followed, Tanaka demonstrated what separates him from almost every other pitcher in the world, and why the Yankees made him one of the highest-paid pitchers in the world. He can throw strikes with any of his high-end pitches at just about any time, and slowly, he dug himself out of the ball-strike deficit.
Tanaka had thrown sliders away with his first and second pitches, and on the third pitch, he threw a good fastball to the outer part of the strike zone -- at a relatively average 90 mph. But Upton, having seen breaking balls on the first two pitches, seemed surprised by it, and was just a tad late in swinging through the fastball. Two balls and one strike.
The count went to 3-1, and then Tanaka threw a slider for a strike; it was a bit of a hanger, but Upton fouled it off. The count was full.
Put yourself in Upton’s mind in this moment. Upton had seen sliders and fastballs, but had not yet seen Tanaka’s split-fingered fastball, which is regarded as his best and nastiest pitch, a tremendous finishing weapon on two-strike counts. Upton had seen Tanaka throw the splitter to the guy who batted right before him, Freddie Freeman, and based on Freeman’s late and uncertain swing-and-miss, it was evident he had not seen the ball well.
A reasonable guess for Upton, then, would’ve been that Tanaka would throw him something off-speed. The splitter, perhaps, or a slider on the outside corner.
Instead, catcher Brian McCann called for a two-seam fastball inside, and Tanaka agreed. Eighty-seven miles per hour, belt high, inside corner.
Upton froze, and took Strike 3. The 87 mph fastball must’ve looked like 97 mph, after all the off-speed pitches that he had seen Tanaka throw for strikes.
There has been a lot of debate in the industry through the winter about whether Tanaka will have enough fastball to be a frontline pitcher, but after seeing Tanaka pitch in person for the first time