Masahiro Tanaka improved to 9-2, pitching six shutout innings against the Orioles on Tuesday night in a 6-3 Yankees win.
He looked a little off in the first inning as two of the first three batters reached base on a hit by pitch and a walk. Tanaka needed more than 30 pitches to escape the first inning without giving up a run, but then he settled in.
“That was huge,” Aaron Boone said. “You start getting to that point in the inning and you’re maybe another hitter from having to start to get somebody up, so great job by him of reigning it in a little bit.”
Tanaka threw 66 of his 105 pitches for strikes, a respectable ratio considering 15 of his first 30 pitches were balls.
He has now pitched 17.1 scoreless innings in a row, which includes a complete game shutout at Tampa Bay. In his last five starts, Tanaka is 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA.
“The split’s been great,” Boone said. “You can just see it on the hitters. They have such a reverence for that pitch. Just so hard for them to lay off it, and he’s really doing a really nice job of commanding it.”
After a blowout loss at home to the Marlins on April 23, Tanaka was 2-2 with a 6.04 ERA. There haven’t been too many struggles since then. In his last 13 starts, Tanaka is 7-0 with a 3.20 ERA. Opponents have been held to a .202 average over this extended stretch. And he’s allowed three runs or fewer in 10 of the 13 starts.
He had to leave his June 8 start against the Mets while he was dueling with Jacob deGrom, as he pulled both hamstrings scoring on a sacrifice fly.
He returned on July 10, giving up three earned runs in 4.1 innings against Baltimore. Then a better start against Cleveland where he gave up two earned runs in 6.1 innings.
Last week, he threw a masterpiece, a complete game three-hit shutout in Tampa Bay. And now six more shutout innings against the Orioles.
“I think it was this time last year where he really started to turn it on, too,” Boone said. “After the All-Star break he really started to pitch well down the stretch, and then I think everyone saw how great he was in the postseason. So hopefully we’re seeing him kind of follow a similar script right now and really round into form.”
Tanaka struggled mightily in the first half of last season as his ERA was at 6.55 in the first week of June. At the All-Star break his ERA was 5.47. He improved in the second half, lowering his ERA to 4.74 at the end of the season.
Then he pitched seven shutout innings in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Indians as the Yankees staved off elimination with a 1-0 win. And in Game 5 of the ALCS, Tanaka pitched seven more shutout innings against the Astros. He was only the third Yankee in history with multiple scoreless starts of at least seven innings, joining Roger Clemens and Whitey Ford.
Tanaka’s back-to-back strong starts come at a time when Luis Severino is struggling, having seen his ERA increase from 1.98 to 2.94 in his last four starts. Boone trusts Tanaka as the number two starter. And nights like this build that trust.
And now comes in the most crucial series of the year as the Yankees head to Fenway Park. Tanaka’s next scheduled start is Sunday night against the Red Sox. The Yankees are counting on his strong second half to continue.