Tanaka takes a page out of 2014 pre-injury
Any more questions about Masahiro Tanaka? I thought not.
For all the concern about the dip in velocity on his fastball, Tanaka looked Saturday night every bit the pitcher he was last season before he hurt his elbow. Developing a two-seam fastball to take some pressure off his arm from relying so often on four-seam gas has given Tanaka a different dimension. He claims the additional pitch will make him more economic.
The results from his first two starts were mixed, and he was over-analyzed to death by the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball crew last weekend. Saturday night, however, Tanaka was the pitcher fans of the Yankees have grown to love.
I have to admit that I shook my head when leadoff hitter David DeJesus led off the first inning with a single. Here we go again, I thought, Tanaka is getting more and more hittable. Shows you what I know. He did not allow another base runner until the sixth inning when Brandon Guyer doubled leading to end a stretch of 15 consecutive outs. Guyer never got beyond second base as Tanaka roared back with two strikeouts and a grounder and then added a 1-2-3 seventh.
In between those innings, the Yankees scored seven runs in a 38-minute seventh that turned a pitching duel into a blowout. It was a scoreless game through five as Tanaka battled Tampa Bay starter Jake Odorizzi, who had allowed only one run in his first two starts over 14 2/3 innings.
One batter who gives Odorizzi trouble is Yankees catcher Brian McCann, and he was at it again Saturday night. He singled in each of his first two at-bats and gave the Yankees a 2-0 lead with a two-run triple off the top of the right field fence in the sixth. It was only the fourth career three-base hit for McCann, who is 8-for-13 (.615) with one double, one triple and two home runs off Odorizzi.
After giving up a leadoff single to Chase Headley, Odorizzi came out of the game, and the Yankees went on the attack against the Tampa Bay bullpen. Lefthander C.J. Riefenhauser gave up hits to three left-handed batters — a double by Stephen Drew and singles by Jacoby Ellsbury and Brett Gardner — surrounding a sacrifice fly by Gregorio Petit. Gardner’s RBI hit ended Riefenhauser’s outing.
Righthander Grant Balfour fared no better. He gave up a run on a sacrifice fly by Mark Teixeira and four more on a grand slam by Chris Young, who started in right field because Carlos Beltran is fighting a severe cold.
The 9-0 victory was a terrific combination of an offensive breakout and a classic Tanaka performance in which he allowed two hits and no walks with eight strikeouts in seven innings and 85 pitches to lower his ERA from 7.00 to 3.94.
The triumph guaranteed the Yankees their first winning series of the season with a chance to complete a sweep Sunday afternoon and get to .500 behind Michael Pineda. That would be a strong springboard heading into a challenging, four-game series at Detroit.