TAMPA — Before the first pitch of the exhibition season is thrown by J.A. Happ on Saturday against the Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees know they will open the season without James Paxton and might not have Luis Severino at the start either.
Then, they almost lost Masahiro Tanaka on Friday while the right-hander was throwing live batting practice on Field 2 at the Yankees’ spring-training complex.
“Close,’’ Tanaka said of Brett Gardner’s sizzling ground ball up the middle that narrowly missed hitting the pitcher’s right leg.
Later, D.J. LeMahieu smoked a line drive up the middle that wasn’t far from colliding with one of Tanaka’s body parts.
Despite the hard-hit balls, Tanaka said he was pleased overall with the two-inning outing ahead of his initial exhibition start Wednesday at home against the Nationals.
“Just the gradual building,’’ Tanaka said when asked what he took away from the outing. “The last time it was one inning, today was two innings. I like how I feel right now with the fastball and off-speed pitches.’’
Tanaka has been attempting to sharpen a cut fastball and liked the action in previous stints on the mound. Friday he reduced the number of cutters he threw.
As for not having Paxton (back surgery) maybe until June and the possibility of Severino (sore right forearm) not being ready to start the season, Tanaka said those events can’t affect his responsibility.
“It always hurts, not just a starting pitcher, when somebody goes out with an injury,’’ said Tanaka, who had offseason elbow surgery to remove a bone spur in his right elbow but hasn’t shown any signs it is a problem. “That can’t impact what I have to do.’’