Toronto Blue Jays open season Monday afternoon in New York vs. Yankees

There will be at least two noticeable differences Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium when the Blue Jays and New York open the 2015 season. Yankees' starter Masahiro Tanaka's fastball will be slower and Toronto will have six rookies on the roster.

Hutchison faces Tanaka, A-Rod returns, Torre to throw out 1st pitch

Members of the grounds crew work on the field at Yankee Stadium before Monday's season opener between the visiting Toronto Blue Jays and New York. Drew Hutchison starts on the mound for the Jays against Masahiro Tanaka. Toronto will have six rookies on its roster, including centre-fielder Dalton Pompey and second baseman Devon Travis. (Seth Wenig/Associated Press)

Masahiro Tanaka had an impressive rookie major league season in 2014, including three wins against the Toronto Blue Jays.

  • The Japanese right-hander made his major league debut for the New York Yankees at Toronto last April 4, allowing two earned runs and striking out eight in seven innings.
  • On June 17, he held the visiting Jays to one earned run over six innings, fanning 10.
  • And on Sept. 21 at Yankee Stadium, Toronto managed just one run in 5 1/3 innings off Tanaka in a 5-2 loss.

There will be at least two noticeable differences Monday afternoon at Yankee Stadium when the Blue Jays and New York open the 2015 season.

First, Tanaka's fastball velocity has been down this spring as a result of him choosing to pitch through a partially torn ulnar collateral (elbow) ligament last season rather than have Tommy John surgery.

"I'm throwing more [two-seam fastballs] that could make the velocity go down a bit," he told reporters through an interpreter in New York. Tanaka also throws a cutter curve, changeup and devastating split fastball.

Tanaka's four-seam fastball used to sit at 94 miles per hour and reach as high as 96. Now, the pitch sits in the high 80s and tops out about 91.

That's music to the ears of Blue Jays cleanup hitter Edwin Encarnacion and leadoff man Jose Reyes. Encarnacion is 4-for-8 with a double against Tanaka, while Reyes has a home run among his three hits in six at-bats against the Yankees hurler.

"He knows how to pitch," Reyes said of Tanaka to reporters after the Sept. 21, 2014 game. "He knows when he needs to use his pitches."

Also, the Blue Jays will field a much different lineup than the one Tanaka saw in last year's opener and in September.

Six rookies are on this season's roster, including centre-fielder Dalton Pompey and second baseman Devon Travis, along with catcher Russell Martin and third baseman Josh Donaldson. Left-fielder Kevin Pillar, who will bat eighth Monday, wasn't in the starting lineup for the 2014 opener along with Martin and Donaldson, who hit 29 home runs for Oakland before arriving in the Brett Lawrie trade.

Revamped batting order

Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind, Ryan Goins and Jonathan Diaz batted second, fifth, eighth and ninth against Tanaka on April 4, 2014. Martin, Donaldson, Pillar and Travis, a former Detroit Tigers top prospect who hit .359 to win a starting job this spring, will bat in those spots on Monday.

Drew Hutchison takes the mound for the Blue Jays after sporting a 1.50 ERA in five spring appearances, including four starts.

He won 11 games in 2014, his first full season after Tommy John surgery. Hutchison struggled against New York, going 2-4 with a 5.17 ERA, which is slightly above his 4.80 career mark at Yankee Stadium.

He has fared well against Brett Gardner (4-for-17, .235) and catcher Brian McCann (.222, two homers) but leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury has owned Hutchison with five hits in 11 at-bats.

Gardner and Ellsbury had a disappointing spring training, hitting .186 and .200, respectively, and combining for two extra-base hits in 94 at-bats.

As a team, Toronto was 3-7 at Yankee Stadium last season, a marginal improvement from the Blue Jays' 0-10 showing in 2013.

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez will start at designated hitter Monday, his first regular-season game following a one-season drug suspension. The three-time American League MVP enters the season fifth all-time with 654 career home runs, six behind Willie Mays. He hit .267 in 19 pre-season games (47 AB) with three homers.

The Yankees also open a new campaign without a No. 1 closer after David Robertson, who signed with the Chicago White Sox as a free agent. Free agent Andrew Miller joined the Yankees in December and is expected to start the season sharing the closer's role with Dellin Betances.

Brett Cecil has succeeded Casey Janssen, now in a setup role with Washington, as Toronto's closer.

Toronto finished third in the AL East last season with a 83-79 record, while New York was second at 84-78.

Former Yankees manager Joe Torre, now executive vice president of baseball operations for Major League Baseball, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at 1:08 p.m. ET, with game time scheduled for 1:10 p.m.

The remainder of the three-game series will be played in the evening, with Toronto knuckleballer R.A. Dickey matched up against fellow right-hander Michael Pineda on Wednesday and lefties Daniel Norris and CC Sabathia hooking up Thursday. Both games are slated for 7:05.


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