He pitched like the ace the Yankees and Yankee fans know. Masahiro Tanaka led the team to victory Thursday, throwing 7.2 innings, giving up two runs (one earned), and striking out six in a 6-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics at Yankee Stadium. It was the type of performance the team saw almost regularly last season before Tanaka was put on the disabled list with a partially torn UCL, which happened exactly one year ago from Thursday’s start.
Tanaka’s last start on July 3 was not bad — he went six innings and only gave up three runs — but his location was not great, and he looked more like a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher than an ace. Since he gave up at least five earned runs in his two starts before then, the Yankees were looking for Tanaka to show more signs of progression, and he gave them that.
He got off to a quick start in the first, retiring the first three hitters on seven pitches. In the second, however, it looked as if Tanaka might struggle for the rest of the game, giving up two hits and two runs. It was not all his fault, though. The first batter of the inning, outfielder Josh Reddick, got to first base on catcher’s interference by Brian McCann, and he scored when designated hitter Billy Butler drove a fastball left up in the zone for a double. Butler later scored on a double by left fielder Mark Canha.
But it turned out that was all the damage the Athletics would do off Tanaka. He retired every hitter he faced from the third inning through the eighth until Manager Joe Girardi took him out with two outs. The only time a runner got on was when Butler struck out but made it to first when the ball got away from McCann. What was encouraging about the performance was his location was much better, and it seemed the Athletics did not have much of a chance once he settled in. His signature splitter was much more controlled, as he got multiple strikeouts and groundouts from the pitch.
In his postgame press conference, Girardi complimented Tanaka’s location and noted the importance of him getting into the eighth: “We needed some distance out of him … he became pretty economical,” Girardi said. No Yankee starter had gone more than 5.1 innings since Michael Pineda on July 4 against the Tampa Bay Rays, and it was the most innings and most pitches (115) that Tanaka had thrown in a start since he threw a complete game against the Red Sox on June 28 of last year.
“I think the ball was coming out from my hands pretty good,” Tanaka said through his interpreter after the game. “I want to just kind of build on this and take some days off for the All-Star break and build on this and have a good second half.”
If Tanaka can continue to pitch like this and re-emerge as the team’s ace, it will make the Yankees battle for first place in the American League East a little bit easier.
(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)