At this point, whenever Masahiro Tanaka struggles, expressing doubts about his health becomess little more than another baseball cliché.
It might be accurate, and it might be relevant, but it’s too obvious to really push the conversation forward. Might Tanaka’s past two starts — with 11 earned runs spread across 10 innings — be related to his bad elbow? Of course. But the Yankees are so thoroughly convinced that he’s healthy they let him throw two bullpen sessions instead of one leading into Friday’s return to Yankee Stadium.
“I haven’t felt like the health has been a thing,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “I think it’s adjustments and a more normal bump in the road. He’s still managed to fight his way through situations. The fifth inning they tied it up in Houston, obviously he had a 6-0 lead and gave it back, but he got us through that fifth inning after they tied it up.
“I think there’s still some tenacity there. I don’t think the competitive side of it (has diminished). The frustration hasn’t necessarily gotten all the way into his competitive nature as it does with some other guys. Right now, you look at the smaller picture. Get through the first inning, make pitches, execute pitches and then go on.”
In 29 Major League starts, Tanaka’s allowed more than five runs only three times. The first was his final start of last season. The others have been his past two starts this season. He has, quite literally, never had back-to-back starts like this.
Not since he came to New York, anyway. Not since he signed the $155-million deal that told the world, this guy is not supposed to pitch like this.
“There’s not a pitcher that’s ever pitched in this league and been any good that hasn’t gone through this,” Rothschild said. “It’s not unusual. It’s just that with him, because of the record he had in Japan and when he first got here, the expectations probably got a little bit unreasonable for him. It’s not unusual. Everybody goes through it, there are adjustments you have to make, and I think he’s going through that period right now.”
With five days off between starts, Tanaka threw two bullpens. In the first, he focused on his fastball. The second was more of a typical side session mixing all of his pitches.
There was a mechanical adjustment involved — working on properly finishing off his pitches — but Rothschild said the Yankees have also talked to Tanaka about pitch selection issues, the details of which Rothschild wouldn’t discuss publicly.
“There’s some frustration, which there should be,” Rothschild said. “As long as that frustration leads into correction and adjusting what we need to adjust, that’s good. I wouldn’t expect him to take it in stride because it’s been a while since he’s had any struggles, really. The good ones come out on top of it, and I expect he will.”
“I don’t know if they’ve changed approach or if they’re more familiar with his style of pitching,” Rothschild said. “If they have (adjusted), then he’s got the weapons to combat that. He’s got the pitches to be able to handle that. It’s more a matter of executing pitches than it is worrying about what hitters have done to change their approach to him.”
Because his elbow ligament was partially torn last season, because the Yankees chose to rehab rather than pursue immediate Tommy John surgery, and because he’s already had a relatively minor injury in his forearm this season, Tanaka’s health will remain a concern and a point of focus for the foreseeable future.
That’s essentially a given; something that goes without saying.
What we’re about to find out — if he really is healthy enough to keep pitching — is whether Tanaka can deal with the first real performance-based roadblock of his Major League career.
“When things turn sideways a little bit, you need to get them straightened out,” Rothschild said. “He’s a good pitcher. At the end of the day, he will be as long as he’s healthy. Whether it happens this time or whenever; this time it would be ideal for it to happen. What I base it on is his approach, his concentration level and his focus — as I do with all the pitchers. If they maintain that, then the ability will play.”
Associated Press photos
Last week, Masahiro Tanaka returned from the disabled list and pitched seven innings on 78 pitches. Tonight, he went seven innings on 87 pitches. If he were a guy the Yankees were willing to let loose for 120 pitches, he might have had a complete game in back-to-back starts. Instead, he’ll settle for his four wins in his past five starts.
And this one came in a matchup against Max Scherzer.
“Obviously I knew who I was going up against today; a good pitcher,” Tanaka said. “Still, I’ve only had one year and a little bit here, so I have to build myself up to being a better pitcher here.”
Only a couple of partial seasons for Tanaka, but it seems Major League Baseball has learned to do whatever’s possible to avoid his splitter. Efficient pitch counts the past two games have a lot to do with Tanaka throwing a lot of strikes and having excellent stuff, but they might also have to do with opposing hitters swinging early to avoid those counts when Tanaka might break out his most devastating weapon.
“I think they probably have a game plan that they want to stay out of that count, and his splitter’s an outstanding pitch,” Joe Girardi said. “It’s kind of like Scherzer. If you’re right-handed, you don’t really want to see that slider, and if you’re left-handed you don’t want to see that changeup. That’s the kind of thing that you go through has hitters, so you look for the pitch that you can hit.”
According to Brooks Baseball, Tanaka threw 16 splits tonight, and 13 of them were strikes. Ten were strikes not put in play. By percentage, Tanaka has thrown fewer splits these past two starts than he’s thrown in most of his other starts, but that might not be an indication that the split isn’t effective. Only that it’s so effective, hitters are actively trying to avoid seeing it by swinging at other pitches earlier in the count.
“When he’s getting ahead early in the count with offspeed and he’s able to save that split for the second time around, he can throw any pitch in any count,” Brian McCann said. “… When he gets you to two strikes, there’s nothing a hitter can really do. You either sit on the split or you don’t.”
Two starts in a row now, Tanaka’s been excellent. Basically just as good as last season.
“Not really surprised,” Tanaka said. “I don’t have that sense of being surprised with my pitches.”
• Key play of the game had to be Ian Desmond’s decision to throw to third base in the seventh inning. Have to imagine he had a good chance of getting slow Alex Rodriguez out at first to end the inning, but third base was closer, and Desmond went that way. Looked like Ramon Flores made a nice heads up play running the bases — coming in at an angle that caused the throw to hit him on the backside — but Flores said that wasn’t the plan at all. “No, I was thinking the ball was going to go through,” he said. “So I was running at an angle, trying to make an angle to go home.”
• So Flores wasn’t trying to get in the way of a throw, he was trying to set himself up for a sprint home if the ball got past Desmond? At least I’m not the only one who thought he’d made the wide turn intentionally to get in the way. “I thought it’s an outstanding base-running play on his (end),” Girardi said. “You tell the guy to read the fielder that’s in front of you and try to get in the way of the throw like Reggie used to. But it’s just a heads up play, he sees it’s going to be a tough play, and that led to a big inning for us.”
• Good running play or not, Flores had another good game. He had three hits, including the one that set the stage for that pivotal four-run seventh. He also made another great play in left field with a diving catch. He’s been a nice player since he got here.
• Wound up not mattering, but the time it seemed Mark Teixeira’s bad read on a fly ball to center might be the biggest play of the game. It was a tied game at the time, and it really seemed Teixeira could have — or should have — scored from third, but he instead tagged up late and then didn’t break for home after Michael Taylor made a diving, sliding play. “It’s a tough read,” Girardi said. “I think what the thought was, he was going to catch it and not fall down. So he was going, in a sense, he was a little bit off the bag because he knew that he’s not going to throw on a tag-up if he catches it on his feet. So it’s a tough read.”
• But after the sliding play, shouldn’t Teixeira have gone home? “You think that he can make it,” Girardi said. “But he’s not 100 percent sure because the outfielder’s not that far out.”
• This was Stephen Drew’s second two-homer game in the past five days. He’s had just four multi-homer games in his career, and two of them have come within a week of one another during a horrific season at the plate. “His hits are extremely productive, is the bottom line,” Girardi said. “He’s had big hits for us.”
• Drew’s first home run was the 1,000th hit of his career. “It’s special,” Drew said. “Being able to play this game, and playing it for a long time, and being able to reach that milestone. It’s special. The Lord’s blessed me with being here as long as I have, and I’ll remember that when I’m done playing. It’s something you’re going to look back on and just be thankful for.”
• Why use Andrew Miller in a game like this? “If the next guy hits a three-run homer, you want to give him a little wiggle room,” Girardi said. “So I want to give him two hitters to get one out before the tying run comes up. And I’m just taking advantage of the off days, and we have not used him a lot in the last five or six days.”
• This seven-game winning streak is the Yankees’ longest since winning seven straight in September of 2012. The last time they wont eight or more was a 10-game winning streak in June of 2012. They’re a Major League best 11-3 in their past 14 games.
• The Yankees have homered in seven straight games and 15 of 17 overall. They have 76 home runs in 56 games and have hit 17 home runs in their past seven home games.
• Tanaka is only the fourth Major League pitcher to get at least 17 wins in his first 26 career games joining Boo Ferriss, Cal Eldred and Steve Rogers. His streak of four consecutive starts of at least six inings and no more than five hits or one run matches the longest such streak by a Yankees pitcher over the past 102 seasons. Last to do it was Orlando Hernandez in 1998.
• Final word goes to Girardi about Tanaka: “Just really consistent. I think he threw 85, 86 pitches. To be so efficient I thought was really important. I thought they were aggressive on him, and I thought he made really good pitches early in the count. … I don’t ever make too much of one outing. I think you try to put together 10 outings and make an evaluation. But obviously it’s great to see him follow it up, but I think his stuff today was as crisp as it was the other day.”
Associated Press photos
Pitching matchups vs. Nationals • 06.09.15
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (3-1, 2.76)
RHP Max Scherzer (6-4, 1.85)
7:05 p.m., YES Network
RHP Nathan Eovaldi (5-1, 4.16)
1:05 p.m., YES Network
Associated Press photo
Masahiro Tanaka is back. But we’re still figuring out what exactly that means.
Does it mean he’s back for the time being, making another Yankee Stadium start tonight before an inevitable return to the disabled list? Or does it mean he’s back to being the front-line pitcher he was last season, mixing a potent-when-necessary fastball with exceptional breaking pitches to be one of the best starters in the game?
Last week’s start in Seattle sure looked like the later.
In his return from a forearm strain, Tanaka averaged 93 mph and topped out at 96 with his fastball. In his previous four starts, he averaged closer to 91 and topped out around 94.
“I guess velocity is important in some aspects,” Tanaka said. “But for me, I look at more of my command of the pitches since I’m being able to locate the ball where I want too. So for me I think that’s more important.”
Sure, reliable command is more important than raw velocity, but velocity surely helps. And last week’s fastball seemed to be a good sign that Tanaka was trusting his arm to hold up.
“As we’ve said, his average velocity has been the same (as last year),” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s just maybe he hasn’t hit the 95, 96. I’m sure he feels good about it, and he feels better that he knows it’s there, but his average velocity was pretty similar.”
Why the spike in velocity last week? Tanaka said some of it is surely from building arm strength and getting deeper into the season. He also thought warmer weather had something to do with, though it wasn’t especially hot when he pitched at Safeco Field.
Ultimately, the Yankees have known for a while that Tanaka was capable of reaching that sort of velocity. To actually see it, though, was a good sign both for Tanaka’s health and his performance.
“I think there’s maybe a little bigger discrepancy between his fastball and his split,” Girardi said. “He can go up in the zone a little bit sometimes maybe to get strikeouts a little bit easier, (but) that’s not really what he does a lot of. He’s usually a guy that looks to get strikeouts with his split, but the extra velocity makes guys speed up is what it does. It’s not the key to pitching.
“We’ve seen a lot of pitchers be extremely successful throwing 87, 88 — we saw Mike Mussina (who) threw 88 and won 20 games – but it does allow him to do some different things.”
Associated Press photo
Yesterday afternoon, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman stepped onto the field to watch a little bit of batting practice. While he was there, he talked to the media for a while. Nothing particularly new came out of it, but the GM did hit on a number of topics that really matter to this team right now, so here are a few highlights:
On the recovery of Jacoby Ellsbury
“We had a timetable. I don’t think we talked about it too much publicly. He was going to be in one of those lineman-looking braces for three weeks. He’s been doing running and stuff in the brace, I think, with some low-level resistance. Obviously doing a lot of strength work. He’s been working his tail off to make sure his quads and his hammys and everything else are not falling behind. … My update through yesterday is he’s busting his tail and doing a lot of functional stuff, but he’s got to have that brace on for three weeks total and he’s just past week two.”
On the decision to have Michael Pineda skip a start
“We’ve just been talking through it. Tanaka obviously got a time out because of the injury he had, so with the off days that we’ve had, it was: all right, let’s try to make a decision here at least on this front end. There’s other avenues to do it if you got a full complement (and) everybody’s healthy. You can always play with a six-man rotation if Nova’s back and everybody’s in line. We’re just trying to find ways to manage it properly so everybody keeps that full tank of gas and doesn’t have fatigue set in too easily, because once fatigue sets in, injuries can happen.”
On the idea of six starter when Ivan Nova is healthy
“It just depends on time of year, how things are functioning, who’s experiencing what. There’s no strict plan as much as (trying to) find ways at times to give people blows is basically what we’re going to try to do. But how we’re going to do it, we’re not sure just yet. … (Nova)’s going to have one (rehab start) in the Florida State League. If that goes fine, he’ll go to Scranton, weather permitting, and at that point we’ll evaluate. I guess it’s possible (he could be back this month). We did build him up to 75 pitches in extended spring so we can keep him on the clock if we feel it’s necessary, or we can pull him if we need him.”
On the dependability of Alex Rodriguez as an everyday player
“It was unpredictable what we were going to get. I could throw out there about the DH spot, it’s not as demanding and we all know that, but I didn’t have any expectations, let alone playing every day as a DH or being productive. He’s been very, very impressive and obviously helpful.”
On lingering foot concerns with Brian McCann
“I’m just thankful every test was negative. (The wrong orthotic) is more likely than not what was causing the issues. We’ll just swap it out and we’ll be able to go on from there and forget that it happened.”
On lingering elbow concerns with Masahiro Tanaka
“I can only speak for myself; I don’t think about it any more. I just think about if he is going to perform. In his last start, given how it was in his two rehab starts, I just wanted him to be productive. I knew he was around an 85-pitch count, so I didn’t know if we were going to be deep in the pen or not. My God, he was tremendous. I wasn’t worried about health. If something is going to happen, it’s going to happen.”
Associated Press photos
A few random thoughts on the way home • 06.04.15
I doubt there are very many baseball writers who list Oakland as their favorite road city, but I love it out there. My sister moved just outside of Oakland in my second year on the beat, and so last weekend will be one of my favorites of the year. Got to read a bunch of books to my nephew, and for the first time got to hold my little niece. For me, Oakland was the best part of the road trip, even if it was one of the low points of the season for the Yankees.
That dismal Athletics series gave way to a terrific Mariners series, though, and now the Yankees are starting this off day having won seven of their past 10 games overall. They looked pretty good again in Seattle. They pitched well, made some huge plays in the field and got huge hits — huge home runs, even — when they needed them.
Here are a few relatively random thoughts roughly a third of the way through the season.
• Masahiro Tanaka was incredible yesterday. At some point, he was making it look so easy that I think I failed to appreciate it until I looked at the box score at the end of the sixth inning. The guy is really, really good, torn elbow and all. With Michael Pineda outpitching King Felix on Monday, and Tanaka delivering his gem on Wednesday, the bookends of the Seattle series provided plenty of evidence that the Yankees need only make the playoffs to have some shot of making a run at a title. At their very best, Tanaka and Pineda are about as good as any 1-2 combination in the game. With no dominant team in the bullpen, why couldn’t a healthy Yankees roster get to the World Series? The trick, of course, is actually being healthy come October.
• As a whole, the Yankees have been wildly unpredictable this season, and that trend has carried over to several individual players. But there do seem to be five exceptions to that rule: Brett Gardner, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have been healthy and steady pretty much all season. There have been a few hiccups here and there — those are inevitable — but for the most part, the Yankees have been able to count on those five. And those five might explain why there have been more good moments than bad. Three of the top four hitters in the lineup, and the last two-plus innings of a close game. Those five guys help the Yankees win a lot of games.
• In the past few weeks, Girardi really seemed to be giving David Carpenter every opportunity to get his season turned around. He was pitching a little more often than he did back in April, got into a couple of tied games. In retrospect, it seems like a kind of sink-or-swim test, and when Carpenter gave up that RBI double on Tuesday night, he’d officially sunk. If Carpenter had gotten that out, I wonder if he might have stuck around a little longer.
• Along those same lines, I wonder if Girardi is doing something similar with Stephen Drew. After a couple of days off to clear his head and tweak some things, I wonder if Drew gets another week or so of everyday at-bats to see if he can right the ship before Brendan Ryan is ready. If Drew can get something going, then he’ll stick around and Jose Pirela will be optioned. If Drew continues to fall flat, then maybe Pirela gets a real opportunity, Ryan becomes the backup middle infielder, and Drew follows Carpenter into DFA limbo. Right now, I’d say the smart money is on Drew staying and Pirela going, but then again, I didn’t expect the Yankees to actually DFA Carpenter, so what do I know?
• When the Yankees finally add a right-handed reliever to their bullpen — which has to be inevitable, right? — my guess would be Jose Ramirez. That’s as much a gut feeling as it is an educated guess. Ramirez just seems to have the right combination of big league experience, raw stuff and Triple-A numbers. He’s pitched well lately, could go two or three innings if necessary, and Girardi’s familiar with him. If I had to guess which reliever could be called up in the next couple of weeks, I’d pick Ramirez. Who goes down or gets DFA to make room for him, I don’t know.
• Unless someone gets hurt, Garrett Jones is never going to play a huge role on this team. But he does have a role to play, and it really seems that he’s learning how to play it. The Yankees absolutely have to keep Rodriguez and Teixeira healthy and productive, so it will be helpful to pick and choose some opportunities to rest them. Jones should factor heavily into making that happen. If he can hit for power while getting only occasional at-bats — like he did the past two days in Seattle — he’ll help this team even in a limited role.
• When the Yankees were protecting players from the Rule 5 draft, I wasn’t sure Mason Williams was necessary (and if I’d known Slade Heathcott was going to play the way he did in March and April, I certainly would have thought Wililams was unnecessary). But beginning with a strong showing in big league camp, Williams has proven me wrong. I’ve always really liked the guy personally, and now he’s putting up numbers that make it a lot easier to believe in him professionally. Speed and defense have never been a question, but after finally putting up big Double-A numbers, Williams has jumped to Triple-A, taken over the leadoff spot and hit .315/.373/.444 with two stolen bases, six extra-base hits and more walks than strikeouts. It’s only a 13-game sample at the highest level of the minors, but it’s a tremendous sign for a guy who’s always had a world of talent and athleticism, just hadn’t put it all together against advanced competition.
• Am I crazy for starting to believe in Didi Gregorius? Sure, he fell down on Tuesday night, and he continues to occasionally make some bad choices in the field, but he’s also made some spectacular plays in the past week or so (that play up the middle yesterday was incredible). He’s also started to hit a little bit, with a few more line drives and eight hits in his past six games. He’s always going to be a bottom-of-the-order hitter, but he doesn’t have to always be a .220 hitter. And some of those overly aggressive mistakes might fade away with time. I always thought he was worth a shot, and lately he’s actually showing signs of earning his playing time.
• Speaking of which, Ryan’s first two Triple-A rehab games were played at second base and third base. I’m sure he’ll get a turn at shortstop eventually, but the Yankees seem to be prioritizing him as a backup at other positions. To me that suggests Gregorius is going to keep getting most of the shortstop at-bats without falling into a straight platoon when Ryan returns. If that were the plan, surely Ryan would be playing mostly shortstop in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. If Ryan is moving around, then Gregorius isn’t going to be losing a ton of playing time at short. Or maybe I’m reading way too much into two games of a rehab assignment.
• Teixeira is certainly putting up all-star numbers, but I’m not sure he’s going to be an all-star player. He deserves it, but first base is always a crowded position, and right now the American League has Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Abreu. Not that all of those guys are putting up Teixeira-level numbers, but they’ve been good and productive. Either Cabrera or Hosmer will be the starter, and both Pujols and Fielder will surely get support on the players’ ballots. I think Teixeira would be a fine all-star pick, but I won’t be at all surprised if he doesn’t make it. As good as Teixeira’s been in his career, he’s only been an all-star twice.
Associated Press photos
Heading into Masahiro Tanaka’s first big league start in more than a month, Joe Girardi said he would look for two things: command and sharpness of pitches.
Well, Tanaka walked no one and got through the seventh inning on 78 pitches. He struck out nine and got only one two outs on true fly balls into the outfield. As a bonus, his velocity regularly reached into the mid-90s, topping out at 96 mph for the first time this season.
“We’ll take him anytime we can get him,” Andrew Miller said. “I know he’s been battling a little forearm or elbow stuff, or whatever, but when he’s been on the mound he’s been incredible. We want him out there as often as possible, and we want him for the long haul. To have a guy on a pitch count go out and give us seven innings is really, really impressive. He’s the star of the game, for sure.”
Tanaka’s first pitch was a 92-mph fastball, and it was clobbered well over the fence but foul. Tanaka went on to strike out the leadoff hitter on three pitches, which was a sign of things to come. Two more strikeouts in the second inning. Two more in the third. A strikeout to end the fourth, another to end the fifth, and another to end the seventh. All three hits Tanaka allowed came in the third inning when the Mariners scored their only run. After that, he retired the final 13 batters he faced.
“I would have to agree, I think it was the best outing I’ve had this year so far,” Tanaka said. “… It was a good outing, but it’s just one outing. I can’t be too high about that. Right now, maybe I’ll celebrate today, but starting tomorrow I’ll look forward to my next outing and work on my stuff.”
Obviously health will be a lingering concern for a player with a known elbow issue, but this was pretty substantial proof that Tanaka can be plenty effective as long as the elbow doesn’t blow out completely. His offspeed pitches were effective, and Tanaka’s four-seamer was so good that he was willing to throw it up in the zone to finish off hitters. Tanaka had been trying to work mostly down in the zone with two-seamers early in the season, but he said that two starts before going on the DL he starting thinking more about going up in the zone to get outs. He did that effectively today.
“I’m not so sure I expected (that velocity) the first time out,” Girardi said. “Velocity has been a huge topic for him. We talked about his average velocity has been there. In April, a lot of times you don’t see guys’ (full) velocity. You just don’t. Part of it has to do with that stinky weather that we play in, but I was a little surprised.”
Tanaka’s explanation for finally reaching the mid 90s: “I think maybe (because) we’re a little bit deeper in the season. Warming up a little, maybe that has to do with it.”
Maybe a few weeks off helped him. Maybe he simply needed to build up arm strength after a relatively light spring training. Maybe this was simply a really good day. Whatever it was, the Yankees got their ace back this afternoon, and he looked as good as ever.
“If we’re going to go where we want to go this year,” Mark Teixeira said. “We need guys like Tanaka to be healthy and be in our starting rotation. Hopefully that’s what we’re going to have the rest of the year.”
• Andrew Miller had to work for his 17th save. He came in with a runner on, then a hit a batter, walked a guy on four pitches and fell behind 3-0. Miller came back to get a strikeout and a ground ball to get out of that eighth-inning jam before pitching a scoreless ninth. “He’s got a toughness to him,” Girardi said. “In that situation, it’s a tough situation. Bases loaded, 3-0 on a hitter, and to be able to get out of it, it just shows you that he has a lot of ability and believes in himself.”
• Miller on his outing: “I wasn’t missing by a lot. But I was missing consistently in one spot. And that’s kind of a tough thing, because you’re trying to come up with a fix and things keep going in the same direction. I was able to slow things down, and get back in the zone eventually. He chased a 3-2 slider, which is a pitch I throw a lot of times, but with the bases loaded there, if he lays off of that, it might be a different story. But fortunately that happened and got out of it.”
• Girardi said he didn’t want to use Dellin Betances after back-to-back outings. He wound up going to Chris Capuano to start the eighth inning. It was Capuano’s first relief appearance of the year, and it came in a two-run game. Says a lot about the state of the Yankees’ pen beyond Betances and Miller. “They had lefties coming up, and you force their hand to make a change, and Cap’s done it in the bullpen before,” Giradri said, explaining the decision to use Capuano in that spot.
• Any thought of just sending Tanaka out for the eighth? He was at 78 pitches and could have gone up to 85. “No, just because we had talked about 80-85 pitches, but we were expecting that in six innings,” Girardi said. “The extra up-down situation, we thought it was enough. Believe me, I would have loved to.”
• This was the seventh time in his career that Tanaka struck out at least nine batters. First time he’d done it this season.
• This was the first time in Tanaka’s career that he pitched in a major league game to anyone other than Brian McCann. “We were basically on the same page for the most part,” John Ryan Murphy said. “There was a handful of pitches that he shook off, like any other pitcher. … It’s a little uncomfortable going in the second inning, because I didn’t do all the pregame scouting reports and that stuff with him and Larry, but as soon as I knew I was going in I talked to him and (translator) Shingo. We got on the same page, simple as that.”
• Second game in a row that Garrett Jones hit a game-winning home run. He’s homered in back-to-back games. Before this, he’d homered once all year. “Just relaxing,” he said. “Going in there just letting it go, being loose, and try to contribute. I’ve been feeling good at the plate and just trying to stay relaxed, let it fly. Got some pitches to hit and put a good swing. When I’m in there, just trying to make the most of it.”
Another home run for Mark Teixeira, who’s already at 16 homers and 41 RBI. This was his 19th career home run at Safeco Field, the most ever hit here by an opposing player. “Every day is different,” Teixeira said. “It really is. You get a couple of good pitches to hit, hit right-handed, hit left-handed, tomorrow is a day off and then Friday is a new day. I feel good physically.”
• For the second time in less than a week since joining the big league team, Ramon Flores threw out a runner at the plate.
• Final word goes to Murphy on Tanaka: “He was incredible. Everything was for strikes. He threw all of his pitches. The thing that he does so well is on both sides of the plate, the ball can go sideways both ways and go straight down. Everything was working today. Makes it really hard on the other hitters. It showed today.”
Associated Press photos
Game 53: Yankees at Mariners • 06.03.15
RHP Masahiro Tanaka (2-1, 3.22)
Tanaka vs. Mariners
Logan Morrison 1B
Austin Jackson CF
Robinson Cano 2B
Nelson Cruz DH
Kyle Seager 3B
Seth Smith RF
Brad Miller SS
Dustin Ackley LF
Mike Zunino C
RHP Taijuan Walker (2-5, 6.18)
Walker vs. Yankees
TIME/TV: 3:40 p.m., YES Network
WEATHER: Predictably cloudy, but the roof is open.
UMPIRES: HP Will Little, 1B Phil Cuzzi, 2B Tony Randazzo, 3B Mike DiMuro
DON’T YA KNOW: Collectively, the current Mariners have hit just .188 in a handful of at-bats against Tanaka. Only one currently Mariners player has ever homered off Tanaka. It’s Robinson Cano.
FIRST TIMERS: Mariners starter Walker has only faced one current Yankee in a big league at-bat. That one Yankee is Chris Young, who’s not in the lineup. Otherwise, new experience for everyone.
ON THIS DATE: Lots of Lou Gehrig moments — good and bad — happened in early June. On June 3, 1932, Gehrig hit four home runs and barely missed a fifth in a 20-13 Yankees win at Philadelphia. Tony Lazzeri hit for the cycle that game, and the Yankees had 50 total bases. Fifty!
UPDATE, 3:53 p.m.: Tanaka works a 1-2-3 top of the first. His first pitch was crushed, but foul, and he went on to strike out the leadoff hitter on three pitches.
UPDATE, 3:54 p.m.: Leadoff home run by Teixeira in the second inning. His 16th of the year.
UPDATE, 4:00 p.m.: Murphy now catching for the Yankees. That can’t be good.
UPDATE, 4:04 p.m.: Wowza. That’s a heck of a play by Didi up the middle.
UPDATE, 4:29 p.m.: Triple and double in the third inning have tied the game at 1, but Tanaka stopped the damage right there largely because Ramon Flores made another great throw from left field to get another out at the plate. Flores showed up less than a week ago and he’s already thrown out two guys at home.
UPDATE, 4:35 p.m.: Two-run homer by Garrett Jones puts the Yankees back in front 3-1 in the fourth.
UPDATE, 5:00 p.m.: Sore right foot for McCann. He’s going to get an MRI in New York tomorrow. Could be anything.
UPDATE, 5:07 p.m.: Six innings for Tanaka. Still at 71 pitches. Could go back out there for the seventh, but Capuano is warming. Yes, Capuano.
His Opening Day start had been a disappointment. His second start wasn’t particularly good, but it was a win. His third start spanned seven scoreless innings. Fourth start, six and a third with three hits. His fifth start…
Well, his fifth start has been more than a month in the making. This afternoon in Seattle, Tanaka will finally return from the disabled list to start the Yankees’ series finale in Seattle.
“We expect him to pitch like he did his last couple of outings,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Obviously he’s not quite as built up as he was before he got hurt, but just to do what all of our other guys do: give us a chance to win, hold teams down and pitch like you’re capable of. We saw him pitching well before he got hurt. (Today)’s a new day, and we’ll see what happens.”
Tanaka’s scheduled for 80-85 pitches. His last rehab start wasn’t overly impressive, but with Tanaka, the question is never one of talent or ability. It’s all about healthy and durability. How long can he postpone Tommy John surgery? How many month-long DL stints are in his future? How long will this stint in the rotation last?
“When the season started, I didn’t have any issues,” Tanaka said. “I was healthy, and right now I feel healthy as well.”
Despite the spotty results in his final tune-up — just poor command, Tanaka said, easily fixed with proper mechanics — the Yankees say they were encouraged. His fastball velocity was roughly the same as before the injury, and his slider was sharp. That’s the team’s scouting report. The results before he went on the disabled list were also encouraging.
But, again, it’s about health. And while Tanaka has said since spring training that his elbow feels fine, it’s hard not to think the strained forearm and sore wrist — the two injuries that technically sent him to the disabled list in late April — weren’t somehow related to the torn elbow ligament he rehabbed last season.
“I know there are going to always be questions about his elbow because of what he went through,” Girardi said. “But every doctor has said don’t operate now and just go pitch. … Health is just too hard to predict. You see healthy guys (get hurt) like Chase Whitley, who had never had a problem before. It happens. I think will all your starters, you’re more apt to keep your fingers cross than to expect it.”
Set different expectations because of the injuries?
“Not really,” Girardi said. “Because we see the stuff. We see it there. I know there’s been a ton made of his velocity, but his velocity is the same average as last year. It comes down to making pitches. We still expect a lot from him.”
Associated Press photo
Best I could tell from watching on television, Masahiro Tanaka looked every bit like a big league starter facing a minor league lineup tonight.
Making his first rehab start since going on the disabled list late last month, Tanaka cruised through three scoreless innings with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. He struck out two, walked none and showed no signs to trouble in either his forearm or his elbow.
The Yankees have not said what’s next for their injured ace, but he will presumably make at least one or two more minor league starts before rejoining the big league rotation.
“I can’t really say right now,” Tanaka told reporters, including Donnie Collins, who passed along a few quotes. “I’ll have to wait and see how it feels tomorrow. Obviously, we get to see our trainer in New York, our manager, coaches and discuss to see what the next step will be.”
All signs were positive through the first step.
Scheduled for three innings or 45 pitches, Tanaka needed 41 pitches to get through three scoreless. He allowed one double and one single but otherwise worked quickly and easily, mixing all of his pitches with a fastball sitting at 91 mph and topping out at 92 on the stadium radar gun.
“I felt pretty good out there,” Tanaka said. “I was able to use all my pitches. I felt pretty good. … Not necessarily different than how I usually go into a game. I was looking to obviously pitch all my pitches with force, and I was able to do that tonight.”
Tanaka’s first pitch came in at 91 mph, and it was lifted for a routine out to center field. His entire outing wouldn’t be quite that easy, but it didn’t get much harder. After the second batter of the game doubled, Tanaka retired the next seven in a row. The first inning took him just 12 pitches, and the second inning required only 10.
It seemed Tanaka would fall far short of 45 pitches at the end of three innings, but after a two-out single in the third, he fell behind 3-0 against former big leaguer Jake Elmore, who had doubled earlier in the game. Tanaka worked to even the count before getting Elmore to fly out to end the inning and end his outing.
Did he feel any pain?
“No,” Tanaka said. “Not at all.”
Check Donnie’s blog postgame for more from the RailRiders clubhouse, including — assuming he talks to reporters, which I’m sure he will — comments from Austin Romine, who was behind the plate for Tanaka.
Associated Press photos