Ever since Masahiro Tanaka suffered his first loss to the Chicago Cubs last month, there has been a question, albeit a small one, about whether his early success was at least partially due to the league’s unfamiliarity with him.
As Tanaka bounced back from that loss with stellar start after stellar start, the rave reviews continued, but we were waiting for that second “second start.” Would he, again, lose to a team he has faced once before?
On Tuesday he had a chance to answer that question, as the New York Yankees started an important mid June series. His opponent was the A.L. East leading Toronto Blue Jays, who have a powerhouse lineup that is also leading the majors in home runs. As tests go, it was a tough one.
Tanaka entered the game with a 2.02 ERA and, after a leadoff HR on the first pitch to Jose Reyes and two 2-out base hits to the middle of the Blue Jays order, it looked like Tanaka was in for a rough start. In his post-game interviews seen on YES Network, Tanaka admitted that the home run threw him off his rhythm. After throwing 22 pitches he didn’t seem long for the game.
Instead, the right-hander settled down to pitch six innings, only allowing that one run and lowering his ERA to an A.L. East leading 1.99, all while earning his eleventh win of the year. Girardi, who earned his 600th win as a Yankees manager on Tuesday, was asked on the Yes Network post-game show about Tanaka’s ability to succeed in facing the Blue Jays for the second time. He said, “It tells you how good his stuff is…and how good he can pitch.”
Tanaka answered the second start question in brilliant fashion and has become the undisputed anchor of the Yankees pitching staff. His solid outing means the Yankees now have two opportunities to win this series and, with rookie Chase Whitley and long reliever turned starter David Phelps starting those games, that is a bigger deal than it might seem at first glance.
The Yankees need to do well in closing out the first half and, with Tanaka taking the mound every fifth day, that job became just a little bit more achievable.