HOUSTON - For Masahiro Tanaka, his next start couldn't come fast enough.

After three straight standout starts, he threw the worst game of his career last Sunday at the Stadium against the Tigers. The six-day wait between that outing and Saturday's against the Astros seemed much longer than that.

Hitters can get right back out on the field after a 0-for-4 night and a late-inning reliever often gets another crack a night after a bad outing.

Not so, obviously, for starting pitchers, who are generally more than happy to have the rest after a good outing but typically want to get back on the mound quickly after a poor one.

"It is hard because you can't go out there the next day and try to get it all back," Tanaka said Friday through his translator. "You have to wait that four days, five days to go out there again, so it is hard to wait."

Tanaka tied career highs in Sunday's 12-4 loss by allowing five earned runs -- seven overall -- and 10 hits in five innings. He also allowed a career-high three homers.

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He chalked up the outing to "mechanical" issues, ones addressed the last five days in two separate bullpen sessions with pitching coach Larry Rothschild.

"I feel that I'm at a pretty good place," Tanaka said. "Was able to work on that in the bullpen. The one thing I need to do is try to get that out in the game, get those results in the game, and do what I've been working on [in the bullpen] in the games."

In the three starts before the one against the Tigers, Tanaka was 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA, an 0.81 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 21 innings, looking very much like the pitcher he was pre-injury last season.

"Your mechanics can be off just that much and it can cause things to go haywire," Joe Girardi said.

With the inconsistency of the Yankees' rotation to this point in the season, the importance of a consistent Tanaka, 4-3 with a 3.17 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and 51 strikeouts in 481/3 innings, can't be overstated.

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"Obviously, we need him to bounce back and we need him to be a staple in our rotation," Girardi said. "He had a tough start against the Tigers, really tough. No location. He couldn't locate his fastball, his split was up in the zone. It happens. When it happens to a guy of his caliber sometimes, you're shocked, but it does happen to everyone."

Tanaka said he's put the start behind him -- but not completely.

"To be honest, when you really feel that it's out of your mind is when you actually win a game," he said. "I'm looking forward to the next game. I'm optimistic and looking forward to my next start, but the one thing that will make me feel relieved is for me to go out there and pitch well, and the team winning."

Notes & quotes: Jacoby Ellsbury, out since May 20 with a sprained right knee, rejoined the team Friday and will work out Saturday afternoon. Girardi said if the workout goes well, there's a chance Ellsbury will be deemed ready for rehab games. "We need for him to run 100 percent," Girardi said. "I don't know if it [rehab games] will be after [Saturday], but it could be really shortly after that." A return to the Yankees before the All-Star break, however, still seems a long shot . . . Andrew Miller (flexor strain) took Friday off after playing catch two straight days. He'll play catch again Saturday . . . With the Yankees scheduled to face lefty starters in three of the next four games, starting Saturday with Brett Oberholtzer, Alex Rodriguez did not start Friday night.