Ryohei Tanaka, who signed a minor league contract prior to the season, made his professional debut Sunday in game two of a doubleheader with Double-A Bowie. He is the first Japanese-born pitcher to play for Bowie.
The 26-year-old pitcher came and threw two scoreless innings to get his first save and complete the doubleheader sweep and series win over the Erie SeaWolves. He shut down the SeaWolves, affiliate of the Detroit Tigers, a team that leads the Eastern League in batting average (.275), slugging (.457) and OPS (.809).
Tanaka did not walk a batter and gave up three singles, only one was sharply hit. He threw 38 pitches, 24 for strikes, and struck out a batter. What is impressive about his effective debut was that the first six batters he faced were left-handed, traditionally giving the batter an edge over a right-handed pitcher.
Tanaka's appearance featured a fastball that was consistently thrown between 86-89 mph and a breaking ball that was in the mid 70's. He also threw a couple changes that looked good, with deceptive arm action and velocity resulting in the low 80's.
Bowie pitching coach Larry McCall said he throws five pitches, a two-seam fastball, changeup, splitter, slider and curveball, however he did also mention that he can cut his fastball as well. As for Tanaka's first outing, McCall was pleased.
"I thought he threw too many breaking balls the first inning," McCall said. "I tried to get his fastball the second inning, I thought he lost his feel the first hitter [of the second inning], but he got it back."
After a pair of hits in the seventh inning, McCall went out to the mound to talk to Tanaka, which at times, could pose as an issue in dealing with a language barrier.
"I went to the mound to tell him to get a ground ball and he listened very well," McCall said.
Tanaka then induced a double-play, which he started, firing to shortstop Robert Valido, who made a nice jumping throw over to Brandon Snyder at first to seal the victory.
As for the language barrier, McCall is not too worried.
"He speaks not much english but you can communicate," McCall said. "It's pretty much the same language when you talk baseball. I see him read his book everyday, I'm sure he's learning words, but he understands baseball."
Tanaka, though new to the Orioles organization, and the continent, is not new to some of his Baysox teammates. In 2007, the Japanese-born player was a part of the Honolulu Sharks in the Hawaii Winter Baseball League while playing for the Chiba Lotte Mariners. Some of his teammates were Ryan Ouellette, Chad Thall, Miguel Abreu and Brandon Snyder, all currently with Bowie.
"He's awesome, he's the best," Snyder said of being reunited with Tanaka. "You can have a guy come in who speaks little english and at the same time is just so personable; he's such a nice guy."
However, Snyder knows being a nice guy is not enough to get to the bigs, but he was able to give a little insight on what to expect from the righty.
"He's going to pound the zone," Snyder said. "I came in after his first inning after he went 3-2 on [Erie third baseman Michael Hollimon] and I said, 'He's not going walk anybody.' That's just the way he is. He's going to pound the zone, he's going to make you hit him."
Snyder also has mentioned a few times this year that he has not gotten as many fastballs as he would like, seeing a lot of breaking pitches, and said Tanaka will throw those early and often, frustrating batters.
"Being able to get strike one, strike two with nothing straight it's going to be tough [for hitters]," Snyder explained.
Tanaka threw first-pitch strikes to every batter in his first inning, but then to just one of the three he faced in his second inning. In getting the job done, he got just one missed swing, on a slider, but he showed good command of all his pitches, getting many late and defensive swings.
Tanaka was impressive in his Double-A debut, but he will need to show much of the same if he wants to become the second Japanese-born pitcher for the Orioles.