TAMPA — Before the first pitch of the exhibition season is thrown by J.A. Happ on Saturday against the Blue Jays at Steinbrenner Field, the Yankees know they will open the season without James Paxton and might not have Luis Severino at the start either.
Then, they almost lost Masahiro Tanaka on Friday while the right-hander was throwing live batting practice on Field 2 at the Yankees’ spring-training complex.
“Close,’’ Tanaka said of Brett Gardner’s sizzling ground ball up the middle that narrowly missed hitting the pitcher’s right leg.
Later, D.J. LeMahieu smoked a line drive up the middle that wasn’t far from colliding with one of Tanaka’s body parts.
Despite the hard-hit balls, Tanaka said he was pleased overall with the two-inning outing ahead of his initial exhibition start Wednesday at home against the Nationals.
“Just the gradual building,’’ Tanaka said when asked what he took away from the outing. “The last time it was one inning, today was two innings. I like how I feel right now with the fastball and off-speed pitches.’’
Tanaka has been attempting to sharpen a cut fastball and liked the…