Will he need his passport, or won't he?

The answer to that question will determine when, and against whom, Masahiro Tanaka makes his first major league start for the New York Yankees.

Manager Joe Girardi said Friday "it was a safe bet'' that the Japanese right-hander, who signed a seven-year, $155 million contract in January, would pitch either the third or fourth game of the season, following ace CC Sabathia and Tanaka's countryman Hiroki Kuroda.

The team's third game is on Thursday, April 3, against the Astros in Houston; the Yankees play the following night in Toronto against the Blue Jays.

"I want to see how [spring training] goes,'' Girardi said. "I think it's just fair to see how he's doing physically at the end of this, because that's one of the biggest adjustments he has to make.''

Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have been easing Tanaka into the flow because of the five-day rotation used in the majors; in Japan, pitchers start just once a week.

Tanaka will make his spring debut Saturday when the Yankees host the Phillies at George M. Steinbrenner Field. Sabathia will pitch the first two innings, followed by Kuroda for the next two. The earliest Tanaka will see action is the fifth because Girardi said he will bring in a reliever if either Sabathia or Kuroda is unable to get out of an inning.

"I wouldn't bring [Tanaka] into the middle of an inning,'' Girardi said.

Girardi wouldn't give a date for Tanaka's next spring start, and he refused to divulge how he would determine the date for his first regular-season start.

"Let's see what he does [in spring training] first,'' Girardi said.

Tanaka has impressed coaches and teammates in bullpen sessions and live batting practice with his wide repertoire -- he throws seven pitches -- and the sharp downward break on his split-finger fastball, which he considers his out pitch.

"I feel that it is important to get some swings and misses from that pitch,'' Tanaka said. "But going into [Saturday] I just want to see how batters react to it.''

Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season for the Rakuten Golden Eagles and won six more games in the postseason as his club won the Japan Series title. He was the most sought-after pitcher of the offseason after Rakuten decided to allow him to enter the posting system, and his arrival in camp has attracted a horde of Japanese media who have shadowed his every move.