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Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka pitches 1st batting practice for Yankees

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TAMPA, Fla. - Masahiro Tanaka impressed Austin Romine when the Japanese star threw batting practice for the first time with the New York Yankees.

The right-hander threw 25 pitches Friday morning at Steinbrenner Field, facing five batters for five pitches each. Romine, tracking the ball in the batter's box without swinging, watched five pitches go by and marveled. At one point, Romine turned around and asked catcher Brian McCann what pitch Tanaka had thrown. Turns out it was his famous splitter.

"I've never seen the ball move like that before," Romine said.

Tanaka had thrown three bullpen sessions since arriving the United States after agreeing to a $155 million, seven-year contract.

Manager Joe Girardi and general manager Brian Cashman watched from behind the batting cage.

Minor-leaguer Adonis Garcia hit a slow grounder up the middle, but two pitches later swung and missed a darting, downward pitch.

"As good as advertised," McCann said. "I know it's only a live bullpen, but you can tell he's got the stuff. He's got a great split. It really falls off the table. His motion is completely the same as his fastball, and that's the key to getting swings and misses."

Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last year and led the Rakuten Golden Eagles to their first Japan Series title.

"I'm think I'm getting into the rhythm of this whole thing," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I feel pretty good about what I did today."

Tanaka hadn't faced a hitter since getting the final out for a save in Game 7 of the Japan Series. He smiled and made a decisive downward movement with his arm when asked if his last pitch in that game was a great one.

Girardi said he might separate Tanaka and Japanese veteran Hiroki Kuroda in New York's rotation because of their pitching styles.

"There is similarities, and it's probably what is taught there," Girardi said. "You always think about what's the best way to line up your rotation so there's a different look every day, so obviously that's something to consider."

Kuroda, CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova also threw batting practice.

Sabathia, coming off a 14-13 record in his poorest big league season, threw 25 pitches. The left-hander reported at 275 pounds, 40 below his high in 2010.

"I feel strong," he said. "I don't feel any fatigue, anything like that. I didn't throw a lot of strikes today, but I can live that with throwing at 100 per cent. I threw all off-season. I'm ahead of where I was last spring. Maybe even the spring before just from all the work I've been doing. I'm encouraged by the way I feel."

Sabathia's fastball velocity dropped from 93.9 mph in 2011 to 92.4 in 2012 to 91.3 last year, according to fangraphs.com. Following elbow surgery in October 2012, his fastball average barely topped 90 in the first two months of last season.

"I'll stay within myself," Sabathia said. "Not try to overthrow. At times last year I got caught up in that. Wanted to overthrow, and that's when things started changing. Arm angle and different things like that. If I'm healthy, I'll just stay within myself and use what I have."

"After having a bad year last year and not helping the team, we want to get back to the playoffs, and I think it starts with me," Sabathia said.

NOTES: Yogi Berra, a 3-year-old colt owned by Jessica Steinbrenner, made his debut today at Tampa Bay Downs and won. ... Nova threw 35 pitches and Kuroda 25. ... 1B Mark Teixeira, returning from right wrist surgery last July, said he's about a week away from taking batting practice against a pitcher and hopes to play in spring training games starting sometime in the first week of March. ... OF Alfonso Soriano missed his second straight workout because of flu but worked in the weight room, according to Girardi. ... Pitching coach Larry Rothschild normally ends BP with a pitcher throwing two pitchouts. He had a different twist for Nova, having him throw two intentional walk pitches.

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