New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka won his third start in a row Thursday, pitching 7.2 innings against the Baltimore Orioles at home to help the Yankees complete a three-game sweep in a 9-3 win. The win was an important one for the Yankees as it was their fifth win in six games since the start of the second half, and it was their fifth series win in a row. They are now 11-4 in their last 15 games and have a 5.5-game lead in the American League East.
Tanaka is now 7-3 with a 3.64 ERA and has started to pitch much more consistently since giving up 13 runs (11 earned) in 10 innings in consecutive starts against the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros on June 21 and June 27, respectively. It was his third start in a row of at least seven innings and fourth start in a row of allowing no more than 3 runs.
The three runs that Tanaka gave up were all solo home runs, but apart from those pitches the Orioles could not do much against him. He started off the first inning well, only throwing 12 pitches to get the first three outs, and from then on he displayed a very strong command of all of his pitches: fastball, splitter, slider and even his two-seam, sinking fastball.
This command led him to total seven strikeouts in the game, most on the splitter, which might have looked its best all season, and the most dominant inning was when he struck out the side in the seventh. The solo shots he gave up were ones to first baseman Chris Davis in the second inning and then to shortstop J.J. Hardy and third baseman Manny Machado in the eighth, which prompted Manager Joe Girardi to remove Tanaka from the game.
Tanaka pitched with a lead the whole game because the Yankees scored four runs in the first inning, and since the home runs were all solo shots the Orioles never threatened to win the game, but the home runs were a bit disconcerting. The only other times he gave up three home runs in a game were in those two bad starts against the Tigers and Astros, and he never gave up three home runs in a game in 2014. He has now given up 15 home runs in 81.2 IP this season, which is the same amount he gave up last year in 136.1 IP.
“Those last two home runs were just a mistake on my side. The focus was there. It was just the location. … I’m not particularly happy about that, but I’ll adjust for the next time around,” Tanaka told ESPN.
If the home runs do not emerge as more of an issue, it appears Tanaka is on the track to continuing to re-establish himself as the clear ace of the team.
Seattle Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma was also on the mound Thursday, taking on the Tigers in Detroit. He faced the Tigers in his first start off the disabled list July 6 and gave up five runs in five innings with a very troubling four home runs, but he was able to avoid a repeat of that performance in the team’s 3-2 win over the Tigers.
Before Iwakuma was able to keep the Tigers under control, he had a bad first inning that indicated he might mimic his last start against the team. The Mariners had gotten him a 1-0 lead, but Iwakuma came out and immediately gave up three consecutive hits that lead to two runs. Second baseman Ian Kinsler started off with an infield single, then left fielder Yoenis Cespedes singled to right and then designated hitter Victor Martinez just missed a home run off the top of the wall in right center, doubling in both runners.
The damage ended there, though. Iwakuma struck out two of the next three batters and left the first inning with 29 pitches. He then retired the next seven batters, striking out four, before walking third baseman Nick Castellanos in the fourth, but he made it to the sixth with 81 pitches while only allowing one more hit.
In his last start against the Yankees on July 18 he only went 5.2 innings on 76 pitches, so it was not apparent how many he would be allowed to throw today, but Manager Lloyd McClendon ended up letting him throw 112 pitches — a career high.
Reaching the career high permitted Iwakuma to make it through seven innings, mostly because of two key double plays. After walking right fielder J.D. Martinez in the sixth with one out, Castellanos grounded into a double play to end the inning. Then in the seventh, after allowing two singles with one out, Iwakuma helped himself by stopping a comebacker to the mound and starting an inning-ending double play.
His final line was seven innings, two runs, six hits, two walks and seven strikeouts, but he got a no decision. He was up against Tigers ace and All-Star David Price who only allowed two runs in eight innings. Iwakuma kept the Mariners in the game, but the team was not able to win until catcher Mike Zunino doubled in a run in the top of the 12th after he had entered the game in the bottom of the 10th.
Overall it was Iwakuma’s third strong start in a row, but with the Mariners at 44-52 and 7.5 out of the Wild Card, it is possible he might be a trade target for other teams if the Mariners decide to be sellers at the trade deadline, which is July 31 at 4 p.m. He is 34 years old and will be a free agent after this season. Although he is coming back from an injury, he could be a strong middle-of-the-rotation piece for a team in need of another starter. But it depends on whether the Mariners believe they are out of contention for the playoffs and if they think they have a strong chance to resign him in the offseason.
Another player who could be affected by trades is Minnesota Twins starting catcher Kurt Suzuki. In 2014 Suzuki was an All-Star and hit .288 with a .728 OPS, three home runs, 61 RBI and 2.2 WAR, and that got him a contract extension through 2016 for $6 million a year. This season, though, he is hitting .227 with a .589 OPS, three home runs, 26 RBI and 0.4 WAR.
The Twins are currently 51-44 and have a three-game lead for the second Wild Card spot. They have not made the playoffs since 2010, and not many people expected them to contend this season. They will probably try to make a move at the deadline, and one spot could be for a catcher to help improve the offense from the position.
Possible targets could be A.J. Pierzynski of the Atlanta Braves, Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers or Derek Norris of the Padres. The Twins, though, still seemed to be happy with Suzuki last month.
“He’s just a catcher who understands his responsibility goes far beyond what he can do offensively for a team,” Manager Paul Molitor told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in June. “The guy takes a lot of pride in the defensive side of the game. That’s why we resigned him last year and wanted to keep him around.”
It is noted that the Twins depth in the organization at catcher is not strong, so even after the season is over they will need to look at a long-term solution to the position. As the trade deadline moves closer and more deals start happening, one will see if the Twins decide to solve the problem now.
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