What to make of two disappointing starts from the guy who’d been the best starter in the American League? Is Masahiro Tanaka getting tired from pitching on regular rest? Is the league figuring him out? Was tonight’s start nothing more an an inevitable proof that he’s not invincible?
“If he gives up runs, that’s the big thing,” Brian McCann said. “If he gives up any runs, it’s a big deal. He’s human. They worked the count tonight, they got big hits when they needed them, and that’s it. … Command is everything when you’re pitching. You’ve got to dictate counts, you’ve got to move the ball in and out, and he’s been doing that all season long. Tonight, he just had a harder time establishing his fastball.”
This was the first time Tanaka had ever made back-to-back starts on four-days rest. The Yankees have given him extra rest at every opportunity this season, but this stretch of 17 days in a row lined up for Tanaka to pitch on regular rest for his final three starts before the break. He’ll do it again on Sunday. Tanaka said that wasn’t the issue tonight.
“I didn’t feel that bad going out on the mound tonight,” he said. “Actually, I did feel that my fastball was a bit better than last time. … I think it had a lot to do with my command, the command of my pitches. I feel that a lot of my pitches were going right down the middle where it’s actually pretty easy for the batters to hit. I think that would be one of the big reasons.”
I suppose fatigue could be the cause of command issues as well. McCann said he didn’t feel that Indians hitters — or Twins hitters before this — had a clearly better idea what to do against him compared to teams earlier in the season. It’s worth noting that the Indians had never seen Tanaka and would have been relying strictly on video and scouting reports.
“Get him up in the zone, that was our biggest thing going into the game,” Michael Brantley said. “He does such a great job of keeping the ball down, we knew we had to get him up in the zone and get some mistake pitches to hit or it was going to be a long night. We did a great job as a team of getting him up and having quality ABs all night.”
Said Nick Swisher: “The scouting report shows he has six different pitches. The biggest thing for us was to just hit the mistakes. That at-bat for my home run was a mistake and I was able to capitalize on that. … In that situation right there, from the scouting reports and every video we’ve seen, he loves the split and the slider. I got in that two-strike count, and he’s been burying that split all day long. I was just lucky enough for him to hang that slider in that spot.”
So was Tanaka worse than usual tonight, or were the Indians particularly good against him?
“Maybe both,” he said.
• In my job, it would be foolish to focus on anything other than Tanaka on a night like this. But my goodness, the Yankees last 20 batters went hitless. They had something going against Trevor Bauer in the early innings, and then he settled down in a big way. The kid’s good, and once he got rolling, the Yankees offense looked lost again. “He settled in,” Joe Girardi said. “He really settled in. He’s got really good stuff and he started getting ahead in the count and using his fastball effectively and his curveball really well.”
• The last Yankee to reach base was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached on a fifth-inning error. He wound up ending the inning when he was caught stealing third base with McCann at the plate. I’m not sure what happened there. You can’t be the third out at third, we all know that. “I’m not sure what happened there,” Girardi said. “You can’t be the third out at third, we all know that.”
• The Yankees actually had two walks and four hits in the first three innings. With a leadoff walk, Brett Gardner pushed his on-base streak to 23 straight games. That’s the longest of his career.
• After the on-base streak was secure, Gardner went 0-for-3 the rest of the night, including two strikeouts looking. He argued quite a bit with home plate umpire Manny Gonzalez after the second one. Ellsbury seemed upset about the strike zone at one point too. “I believe my hitters when they tell me they’re not strikes,” Girardi said. “For the most part I believe them.”
• For whatever it’s worth, Girardi said that Kelly Johnson would have moved into the outfield had Gardner been ejected. Without Alfonso Soriano, and with Carlos Beltran limited to DH, the Yankees aren’t really carrying a fourth outfielder right now. Johnson and Zelous Wheeler (and Brendan Ryan a very little bit) have experience out there.
• Tanaka was asked whether he’s been worried by these past few starts, but he indicated that he really hasn’t been any worse than some of his earlier starts this season, it’s just that the results have been worse and more noticeable. “Not necessarily just the three or four recent outings,” Tanaka said. “I think I felt throughout the season at times that I wasn’t able to perform the way that I really wanted to. Especially because of the fact that the results aren’t there for me for the three or four times, that’s why maybe you say that, but I just have to go out there and battle and try to be my best.”
• The home runs were a slider to Swisher and a fastball up to Brantley.
• Swisher came into this series with just five home runs, and he hit two of those in the first few weeks of the season. He’s now homered in each of these first two games against his former team. Last night’s home run broke up the early no-hitter, and tonight’s put the Indians in the lead.
• Even better game tonight for Brantley, who made the All-Star team on Sunday and had three extra-base hits tonight. Girardi said he was pretty sure Brantley’s two doubles came on splitters (I’m confident one of them did, not entirely sure on the second one). “He’s a really good player,” Girardi said. “He’s a young player that’s really developed into one of the better outfielders in the game all around. He showed why tonight. That’s why he’s an All-Star.”
• By the way, Vidal Nuno made his first Diamondbacks start tonight. I kid you not, he went seven scoreless innings with three hits, one walk and seven strikeouts.
• Final word goes to McCann: “(Tanaka’s) offspeed pitches were up, his fastball was up. He battled. He just didn’t have his stuff tonight. … I think with him it just comes down to his stuff. When he’s hitting his spots, he’s as good as anybody.”
Associated Press photos