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Where EAST meets the Northwest

Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees throws a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in this June 29, 2019 file photo. Tanaka is returning to pitch for his former team in Japan after seven seasons with the New York Yankees. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland, File)

Asian Reporter web extra, January 31, 2021

Tanaka leaves Yankees, rejoins former team to pitch in Japan

January 31, 2021

TOKYO (AP) ó Masahiro Tanaka is returning to pitch for his former team in Japan after seven seasons with the New York Yankees.

The Rakuten Eagles of the Pacific League say the 32-year-old free agent signed a two-year contract. Local media reported the deal was worth almost $9 million annually.

"WELCOME HOME our HERO!!!!" the Eagles posted on Twitter.

The Yankees in late January added two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber and traded for Pittsburgh pitcher Jameson Taillon. New York appeared to have no room for Tanaka in its 2021 rotation and didnít appear to be trying to re-sign the two-time All-Star.

"I have decided to return to Japan and play for the Rakuten Eagles for the 2021 season," Tanaka wrote on Twitter. "I wanted to make sure and touch base with you, and thank you for all the love and support you have given me for the past 7 seasons."

"I feel extremely fortunate for having the opportunity to take the field as a member of the New York Yankees, and play in front of all you passionate fans. it has been an honor and a privilege! Thank you so much!!"

Tanaka went 3-3 with a 3.56 Earned Run Average (ERA) in 10 starts last year during the pandemic-shortened season.

"Disappointing news," Yankees second baseman DJ LaMahieu said during a conference call to announce his new contract with New York. "What a great teammate heís been and what impact heís had on the Yankees, on the city. Obviously wish him well, and weíll be following them. Iím disappointed Iím not going to be able to play with him any more, but Iím really happy for him."

The right-hander pitched for Rakuten from 2007-2013, going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in his final season and leading the Eagles to the Japan Series title.

Tanaka then signed a $155-million, seven-year contract with the Yankees ahead of the 2014 season and quickly became a steadying, consistent presence in their rotation.

Tanaka went 78-46 with a 3.74 ERA and 991 strikeouts in 1,054 1/3 innings. He was an All-Star in 2014 and 2019 despite pitching with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow.

The Yankees often chose Tanaka to start in big games and he went 5-4 with a 3.33 ERA in 10 starts during the playoffs.

New York hasnít won the World Series since 2009 and lost in the AL Division Series to Tampa Bay last season. Gerrit Cole leads a rotation this year that includes Taillon, Kluber, Deivi Garcia, and left-hander Jordan Montgomery.

Luis Severino should be ready to return at some point this season from Tommy John surgery last February 27 and Domingo German is expected back from a domestic violence suspension that caused him to miss last season.

Tanaka was 99-35 with a 2.30 ERA in Japan, where he had 53 complete games in 172 starts.

March 11 marks the 10th anniversary of an earthquake, tsunami, and the resulting meltdown of three nuclear reactors in the northern Pacific coast area of Japan where the Eagles are based. That date is sure to add to the drama around Tanakaís return to Japan.

Spring training starts in February for Japanese clubs, which have been able to play in stadiums with a limited number of fans attending.

Japan, with a population of 126 million, has attributed just over 5,000 deaths to COVID-19. Cases have been surging recently, particularly in urban areas like Tokyo and Osaka.

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