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C.J. Nitkowski: ‘Masahiro Tanaka Will Be The Yankees’ Top Pitcher’

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(Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

(Credit: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

It’s been almost three weeks, but Brandon Tierney just can’t let it go. Having the Los Angeles Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks open the season in Australia was a bad idea.

“I didn’t like it either,” MLB on Fox analyst C.J. Nitkowski said on The Morning Show. “They should have been exhibition games. I get what Bud Selig’s trying to do. The international initiative has been great. I think it’s helped the game a ton. But nobody wants that to be Opening Day.”

And nobody wants that to (potentially) sideline their best pitcher. Upon returning from Australia, the Dodgers put Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list due to a strained muscle behind his left shoulder. Kershaw pitched 6 and 2/3 innings in the Dodgers’ opener – a 3-1 win – but will likely be out until May.

Did this happen because of the long flight? Because Kershaw’s throwing regimen was interrupted? Because of his truncated spring training? Some of that? All of that?

“That’s a conversation Bud Selig doesn’t want happening, especially when you’re talking about the greatest pitcher in the game,” Nitkowski said. “I believe it probably did have something to do with it. Guys are so set in their routines. We don’t like getting disrupted, even a little bit. As silly as it sounds, this is a reason why.”

Kershaw will be reevaluated in two or three weeks.

“They’re not being very definitive about how long this is going to be,” Nitkowski said. “Even Kershaw is basically saying, ‘We’ll see. I’m going to throw and I’m going to continue to throw, and I don’t know yet.’ They’re saying maybe two to three weeks. They’re certainly hoping it’s only going to be a couple of weeks, but they don’t know for sure.

“What you don’t want it to be is a nagging thing that doesn’t go away,” Nitkowski continued. “The Reds ran into this with Johnny Cueto last year dealing with a back issue. They kept having him come back too early and he kept having (to) miss time, going on the DL throughout year. That cost the Reds big-time last year.”

The Dodgers (5-3) are a half game back of the Giants (5-2) entering play April 8.

“We know they have a cushion in this division,” Nitkowski said. “They are far and away the best team. But at the same time, the Giants are looking pretty good. They can’t fall too far behind.”

In the American League, meanwhile, Nitkowski was impressed with Yankees import Masahiro Tanaka, who gave up a home run to the first batter he faced in his big-league debut but settled in thereafter. Tanaka went seven innings against Toronto on April 4, allowing just two runs in a 7-3 win. He finished with eight strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter.

“So far, so good,” Nitkowski said. “You know his pride was hurt a little bit when that game started, when Melky Cabrera hit that home run. He’s not used to that (happening). I’d be surprised to find out if he ever (gave) up a leadoff home run in Japan, just because he’s so used to a much smaller, contact, non-power guy at the top of the lineup. You saw the shock on his face. He seemed a little surprised and disappointed, but he bounced back tremendously.

“For me, he probably will be the Yankees’ top pitcher by the middle of the year, if not sooner.”

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