Masahiro Tanaka Gave Yankees Exactly What They Needed With Terrific Outing
With a doubleheader looming over the weekend, the Yankees were in desperate need of length from their starting pitcher on Friday night.
Masahiro Tanaka didn't just deliver, he was practically perfect.
The right-hander threw five scoreless innings at Tropicana Field against the Rays, striking out five while allowing just one base hit. He retired the final 13 batters he faced after third baseman Yandy Diaz snuck a single through the shift in the first.
"That's as good as you'll see Masa right there" manager Aaron Boone said.
A gem on the mound aside, the Yankees dropped the opener of their four-game set with the Rays 1-0. After two innings of relief from Luis Cessa, Adam Ottavino gave up the game's decisive run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth.
Tanaka threw 59 pitches, a slight uptick from his regular-season debut last week when he tossed 51. Considering just over one month ago the Japanese star was struck in the side of his head on a Giancarlo Stanton line drive in Yankees' Summer Camp, Boone called his second appearance of the campaign "another great step."
"Split was great for him, command was excellent, change of pace with the breaking ball and the slider and keeping them off with a great fastball too," Boone said.
Tanaka mixed all four of his pitches effectively and efficiently. His off-speed pitches stayed at or below the bottom of the zone, his heater remained consistently at the top of it and Tanaka practically never missed in the middle.
"I think the best part of today was that I had good command," Tanaka said through the Yankees' interpreter. "I had good command of both the fastball and also all the off-speed pitches. Last time I think I was a little more, I really didn't have the good command I had today."
Specifically, the right-hander singled out his wipeout slider. Six of his 11 whiffs on the night came via the slider, a pitch he and catcher Gary Sánchez elected to use only three fewer times than his fastball.
"I think the slider was definitely better than the last outing. In today's game, it became gradually better so that was a good thing. Last outing, I really didn't have it so I was really cognizant of executing the slider this game. It was good to see I was able to do that.
He threw his slider for three of his five punch outs, at times making the Rays' hitters look silly.
Other than ace Gerrit Cole, who has gone five innings in all three of his starts this season, the Yankees have gotten one outing of at least five frames out of a starting pitcher. Last week left-hander Jordan Montgomery threw 5 2/3 innings against the Red Sox — he was roughed up by the Phillies on Thursday, allowing five runs over four.
With that in mind, Boone was elated with Tanaka's ability to pitch deeper into Friday's game than he had anticipated. Instead of draining the bullpen, Boone only had to call on two hurlers in relief.
"We were keeping him at right about that 60 pitches so I was hoping for three or four [innings] maybe," he explained. "For him to give us five there was big."
His teammates echoed their skipper. While DJ LeMahieu, who had one of the Yankees' two hits, said he didn't think Tanaka missed a spot all night, Ottavino recognized how invaluable Tanaka's outing will be on Saturday and beyond in the 'pen.
Knowing he was on a pitch count and he got us five innings, that was awesome," Ottavino said. "Really great to see. We always feel good when he's out there so we were happy to have him out there again."
Tanaka has dominated the Rays in the past and certainly pitched well enough to deserve a win, but the Yankees' bats were held scoreless for the first time this summer. With the twin bill coming up on Saturday, Tanaka said it's important for the Bombers' to flush a tough day at the plate and get set to bounce back.
"There's going to be games like this where both teams aren't able to score," he said. "So you just kind of have to leave this and just go into tomorrow I think. It's really important for us to move forward, we have a doubleheader coming up tomorrow so just kind of change the mood and go into tomorrow and take two."
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