Tanaka of old surfaces in comeback start

The Yankees could not have asked for a better outing from Masahiro Tanaka in his first start back after spending the past five weeks on the disabled list because of right wrist tendinitis and a right forearm strain. Oh, yeah, he could have pitched a no-hitter with 20 strikeouts. That would have made the Yanks happier, but what he did Wednesday against the Mariners was just fine, thank you.

The Yankees just wanted to see a healthy Tanaka capable of throwing between 80 and 85 pitches and pitching with the kind of command that has characterized his brief but impressive time with the club the past two seasons. That they saw. The righthander made it through seven strong innings in 78 pitches with stuff the Yankees had not seen from him since last year before his right elbow injury ended his dazzling rookie year.

“This was the highest velocity we have seen from him all year,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I did not expect seven innings from him. I was hoping that at 80, 85 pitches he could get to the sixth. His stuff was sharp. He had the ability to move the ball around. I know there had been questions about his last start, but I don’t make too much of Triple A starts.”

It was a major league effort in every way for Tanaka, who retired the side in order in six of his seven innings. He did not walk a batter and struck out nine. Only the third inning was troublesome when he gave up the three hits Seattle had off him.

Brad Miller tripled to center to lead off the inning and scored on a double by Dustin Ackley that tied the score at 1. One out later, Logan Morrison singled to left, but rookie Ramon Flores choked off a potential run by throwing out Ackley at the plate. It was the second assist for Flores in his first week in the major leagues.

Other than that inning, Tanaka was perfect. A sign that he had the Seattle hitters off balance throughout the game was that seven of his strikeouts were on called third strikes.

And right after the Mariners tied the score, the Yankees quickly jumped back in front on a two-out, two-run home run in the fourth inning by Garrett Jones, who had won Tuesday night’s game with a three-run blast as a pinch hitter in the 11th inning.

People say Safeco Field is a tough place to hit home runs, but the Yankees had four in three games — two by Jones and two by Mark Teixeira, who had put the Yankees ahead with a solo shot in the second inning. Teixeira, who had six RBI in the series, finds Safeco just as comfortable for him as Yankee Stadium. Tex is a .287 career hitter at the Seattle yard with 22 doubles, one triple, 19 home runs and 48 RBI in 300 at-bats. The homer total is the most for a visiting player.

Wednesday was the Yankees’ 54th game, the one-third mark of the season. With 16 home runs and 41 RBI, Teixeira is on a pace for 48 homers and 123 RBI. That would be a monster season.

The Yankees in general play well at Safeco. They have won eight consecutive games there since June 8, 2013, and are 14-3 over the past four seasons. Since 1999, the Yankees have had just two winning streaks of more than eight games against one opponent on the road: nine games at Oakland from July 5, 2010 to May 27, 2012 and 10 games at Texas from July 20, 2005 to May 3, 2007.

Despite Tanaka’s brilliance, this victory did not come easily. In the bottom of the eighth, Girardi brought in Andrew Miller for a five-out save with a runner on first base and one out. Miller, who threw 23 pitches in saving Tuesday night’s game, loaded the bases with a hit batter and a four-pitch walk. But did he ever recover.

Miller struck out Morrison on a slider out of the strike zone and retired Austin Jackson on an force play. In the ninth, Miller got Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz on called third strikes before Kyle Seager got an infield single to bring the potential tying run to the plate. Miller got Justin Ruggiano on a grounder to third and made it 17-for-17 saves.

The three-game sweep of the Mariners made it a winning West Coast trip for the Yankees, who began it by losing three of four games at Oakland. They remained in first place in the American League East and have had at least a share of the top spot for nine straight days and 36 of the past 41 days

There was one downside as the Yankees made their way back home. Brian McCann had to come out of the game in the second inning because of a sore left foot. The catcher has been bothered by the injury and undergoing treatment the past two weeks, but the pain was too severe for him to continue Wednesday. He will undergo an MRI Thursday in New York.

Losing McCann for any length of time would be a blow. He had heated up recently with home runs in four straight games, RBI in eight straight games and a productive trip in which he batted .316 with two homers and four RBI in 19 at-bats.

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