Masahiro Tanaka officially has the go-ahead to start his major-league career.
The Japanese righthander, signed by the Yankees to a seven-year, $155-million deal late last month, has obtained a work visa -- with help from Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- and could be United States-bound as soon as Sunday, according to the AP and reports out of his native country.
Tanaka, who has been working out this offseason in Sendai, told reporters in Japan on Thursday: "I am in better shape at this point compared to previous years."
Whatever he did in those previous years, of course, ended up producing pretty good results -- especially last season. Tanaka, armed with what some scouts have called the best splitter in the world, went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, leading them to a Japan Series title.
After the retirement of Andy Pettitte, the Yankees were in desperate need of pitching and made Tanaka their top free-agent priority. The 25-year-old turned out to be the final major piece of an offseason spending spree in which Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann relocated to the Bronx.
Yankees pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Tampa next Friday. If Tanaka's travel goes smoothly, the Yankees likely will hold an introductory news conference early next week at the Stadium -- typically the club's preference with big-name acquisitions -- and then have the righthander head to Tampa.
Tanaka joins CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova in the rotation, with Michael Pineda, Adam Warren, David Phelps and Vidal Nuño among those expected to compete for the job of fifth starter.