Masahiro Tanaka earns rave reviews from Cubs

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees pitches in the Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees pitches in the second inning against the Chicago Cubs during the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Masahiro Tanaka earned his second major-league victory Wednesday, beating the Cubs in a masterful performance at the Stadium. The Japanese star allowed two hits and struck out 10 in eight scoreless, sterling innings.

But you probably already knew that.

For some perspective on how stellar Tanaka has been, how about an actual perspective -- from a hitter's vantage point. The Cubs described an almost helpless feeling when faced with a two-strike count in the Yankees' 3-0 win.

"I saw one that fell out of the zone and went down, and then I saw another one that was moving side to side," Cubs centerfielder Justin Ruggiano said, describing Tanaka's dancing split finger. "It's so good because it doesn't necessarily do the same thing every time. When he's got that going, it's tough."

Ruggiano went 0-for-2 with a walk and struck out twice against Tanaka.

With his 28 strikeouts, the righthander set the Yankees' record for strikeouts in a pitcher's first three starts, surpassing Al Leiter's 25 in 1987.

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As difficult as Tanaka made it for batters, it was so, too, for the opposing pitcher.

"I thought I threw the ball well, but he was better," said Jason Hammel, who gave up three runs in seven innings and took the loss. "It's hard to do much when the other guy is Cy Young of the day."

Mentions of Cy Young -- the award or the legendary pitcher -- are obviously premature for Tanaka after three starts. But for Hammel that, simply, was his best superlative in describing Tanaka's dominance.

"That splitty is not something that you want to sit on," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "But as it's coming out of the hand, it looks like a fastball. It has such good action."

Tanaka, 25, had long been known in Japan for his splitter, but the Cubs said he showcased a deep repertoire that includes a "nasty slider."

The two bunt singles Tanaka allowed, one could argue, were less his faltering and more a product of the advancements in technology and statistics. Tanaka fielded Junior Lake's bunt in the second inning and threw to first for what was initially called an out. But the Cubs challenged and the play was overturned by the newly expanded replay system. In the seventh, Anthony Rizzo bunted up the third-base line, countering the Yankees' infield shift.

"He threw a lot of everything and spotted it very well," said Nate Schierholtz, who went 0-for-3 against Tanaka. "He just kept us off balance all day."

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