Russell: Tonight, The Yankees Got Their Ace Back In Masahiro Tanaka

In his pre game press conference, Joe Girardi said that Masahiro Tanaka’s split and slider would be extremely important and that he was looking for swings and misses.

There was plenty of that as Tanaka struck out a career-high 13 batters although the Yankees bats were quiet in a 4-1 loss to Oakland on Friday night.

Tanaka was the tough luck loser when Tyler Clippard allowed a few two out hits in the eighth but it looks like the top notch pitcher they expected is back. Tanaka pitched a complete game shutout against the Red Sox in late April before scuffling for a few starts.

Tanaka had pitched horrendously in his previous two outings against Houston and Tampa Bay. Tonight was an ace-like performance which Girardi said made him feel “really encouraged.”

“The two things I thought that he needed to have was his slider and his split and he had them both,” Girardi said. “And I think that’s why you saw him perform very well tonight.”

As a former catcher, Girardi believed Tanaka had an issue with mechanics when throwing his slider in the past few starts. With his manager looking for swings and misses, Tanaka struck out three in the first, and two apiece in the second, third, fourth and sixth.

The Yankees came into the season with the starting pitching as the big question mark which would determine whether they were contenders or pretenders. Tanaka was supposed to be the one sure thing in the rotation, but he gave up 14 earned runs in his last two starts in a combined 4.2 innings of work.

He entered Friday’s start with a 6.56 ERA. But his skipper wasn’t overly concerned. “Even when he was struggling I still had confidence in him,” Girardi said. “I really believed that he would get it ironed out and that he would figure it out and I think we saw him do that tonight. I believe that he’ll just carry it over.”

Shutting out Oakland in the first was an early indication that this night would be different. Tanaka had given up leadoff home runs in his previous two starts and had a first inning ERA of 13 entering Friday. Tanaka, through his translator, said that he felt his stuff was better early just from the way the ball was moving and from the swings of the A’s hitters.

“I felt like I was able to work on my mechanics well enough to get some consistency out of my pitches,” Tanaka said through his translator. Tanaka declined to comment on what the mechanical issue was, presumably so he wouldn’t be tipping opposing batters off should he have mechanical issues in the future.

There have been different theories as to why Tanaka struggled. Was he pitching through an injury? It’s not something Girardi feels was the reason. Tanaka is much more effective with Austin Romine behind the plate than Gary Sanchez, but Girardi pointed out that Tanaka pitched well with Sanchez behind the plate last season.
Perhaps it’s a time issue. Tanaka entered Friday with an ERA about 15 runs higher in his day starts than night starts.

Tanaka has the second highest career K/BB ratio in the modern era but walked three in three innings against Tampa Bay. Things were back to normal and then some with this 13 strikeout-zero walk performance.

Although the Yankees lost on Friday, it looks like Tanaka the ace is back.

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