Vidal Nuno is tonight’s starter, but when you’re being followed an international sensation who has taken the league by storm through the first month of the season, it’s easy for a less-than-six-foot-tall lefty who spent five years toiling in the minors to get overlooked.
Nuno will toe the rubber for the Yankees in tonight’s series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays, but it was tomorrow’s starter, Masahiro Tanaka, who dominated the pregame chatter.
Tanaka told reporters that he considers the start of his big league career “so-so” thus far, but Joe Girardi gave him a bit more credit.
“I think he’s done pretty good,” Girardi said with a hint of sarcasm. “He expects an awful lot of himself. He kind of set a high standard for himself last year, and I don’t know if he’s comparing it to that, but he expects a lot from him. I think that’s what really pushes him to be great.”
Tanaka was referring to the fact that he’s given up some early runs in a few of his starts, but his 2.27 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and and 11.61 K/9 suggest that he’s been very, very good.
“I think probably the biggest thing that we’ve learned about Tanaka is that he’s going to find a way to get it done,” Girardi said. “No matter what his stuff is that day, and no matter what he goes through early in the game, he’s going to find a way to stick around and give me a good chance to win. That’s what I’ve seen from him so far.”
• This is a relatively big start for Nuno considering that the Yankees have lost two straight, and it feels like a longer losing streak because they’ve only played twice in the past four days. He allowed three runs and didn’t make it out of the fifth inning in his previous start against the Angels, but he’s been on somewhat of a limited pitch count. He threw 72 pitches in his last start and should be good for 85-90 tonight. “I’m just trying to go out there and help the team,” Nuno said. “Get a chance to bring in the bullpen, and they’ve been lights out all year.”
• If there comes a time when the Yankees need another starter before Michael Pineda returns from the DL, it’s likely that the Yankees will be calling someone up from the minors. Nuno has already been moved from the bullpen, and David Phelps will take Pineda’s spot for the time being. But Girardi didn’t sound like he would consider moving Adam Warren, who has been very effective out of the pen. “I look at him as our seventh-inning guy, and also as a guy who I could use for more than three outs,” Girardi said. “He’s become very important to our bullpen.”
• Nuno will be opposed by Rays ace David Price, and the Yankees have stacked their lineup with right-handed batters to counter the hard-throwing lefty. Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki and Kelly Johnson are on the bench — each of whom are hitting .176 or worse in their career against Price — with Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann as the only lefties in the lineup. McCann, who is DHing, is actually 3 for 5 with a bomb against Price in his career. Price has been struggling a bit recently. He gave up six runs to the Yankees on April 17 in Tampa, and allowed eight runs (six earned) against the White Sox in his previous start.
• As Jack Curry pointed out on Twitter, since Mark Teixeira has come off of the DL, he and Brian Roberts have played all nine games, while Yangervis Solarte has started six and Johnson five. Roberts certainly seems to be Girardi’s favorite of the non-first base trio, and Johnson may be falling out of favor (even though Johnson’s OPS is nearly 200 points higher).
• As my colleague Brian Heyman wrote about this morning, this will be Girardi’s 1,000th game as Yankee manager. Regardless of the outcome, he will have the best winning percentage of any skipper who has managed at least 1,000 games with his current team. He is currently 579-420 (.580). “It shocked me,” Girardi said. “I’m fortunate and blessed that I’ve been able to do what I love to do in a place I love to be for a long time.”
Associated Press photos