Tanaka impressive in 1st post-injury start

Masahiro Tanaka did not walk off the mound Sunday grabbing his right elbow, which was the best development of the day for him and the Yankees. Making his first start in 10 weeks after being treated for a partially-torn ligament in his elbow, Tanaka showed no ill effects of the injury and gave the Yankees encouragement about his status for next season.

The only negative aspect of the Japanese righthander’s outing was that he failed to go at least six innings for the first time in 19 starts. Manager Joe Girardi made the move to the bullpen after 5 1/3 innings. Tanaka was on a tight pitch count considering the circumstances, so when Edwin Encarnacion hit a ground single to right field against the shift on Tanaka’s 70th pitch the skipper felt he had seen enough, most of which was good.

“Pretty darn good,” Girardi said, then referring to catcher Brian McCann added, “Mac said his stuff was the same [as before he got hurt]. Now we’ve got to get him ready to start Saturday [at Boston]. His first pitch was 92 [mph]. I don’t think I was prepared for that. We haven’t had a lot of good news lately, so this was welcomed.”

Tanaka got off to a shaky start as he allowed hits to the first two Toronto hitters, but the run that scored on a double play proved the only one he would allow. He was touched for five hits and again displayed superb control by not walking a batter (he did hit one) and had four strikeouts. His splitter was on target as eight of the 16 outs he recorded came on ground balls.

“Overall, I was satisfied,” Tanaka said through a translator. “I wanted to check how well the elbow responded. I was able to go pretty strong. I was relieved. Gradually, as the game went on I stopped worrying about it.”

When Tanaka did walk off the mound, he did so with a 2-1 lead. The Yankees tied the score in the bottom of the first on the first of two McCann home runs in the game and went ahead in the fifth on a homer by Brett Gardner, his 17th this season and No. 15,000 in franchise history. Both bombs were off Toronto’s hard-throwing starter, Drew Hutchison, who could not get through the fifth inning.

The Yankees attacked the Blue Jays’ bullpen in the seventh. Back-to-back doubles by Gardner and Derek Jeter off Todd Redmond accounted for one run, and McCann knocked in two more by greeting lefthander Daniel Morris with his second homer of the game and 22nd of the season.

Jeter kept up his torrid home stand with his fourth straight two-hit game, the first Yankees player 40 or older to do that and the first in the majors since the Braves’ Chipper Jones in 2012. DJ is 8-for-17 (.471) with three runs, two doubles, one home run, three RBI and a stolen base on the home stand.

A strong candidate for both Cy Young Award and Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award consideration in the American League before he got hurt, Tanaka improved his record to 13-4 with a 2.47 ERA and to 6-1 with a 1.69 ERA in seven day-game starts. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tanaka is one of four pitchers to have made his first post All-Star Game appearance in September after being named to an All-Star squad that season, joining the Indians’ Ray Narleski in 1956, the Astros’ Joaquin Andujar in 1977 and the Red Sox’ Clay Buchholz in 2013.

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