SEATTLE - For one afternoon, Masahiro Tanaka answered all of the questions.
Velocity? Check. Devastating split? Check. About five out pitches to choose from? Check.
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The righthander, on whom the Yankees' AL East hopes very well may rest, could not have made a much more impressive return to the rotation than he did in a 3-1 victory over the Mariners on Wednesday afternoon in front of 32,701 at Safeco Field.
"We need him," said Mark Teixeira, who gave Tanaka a 1-0 lead in the second inning with his team-high 16th homer. "If we're going to go where we want to go this year, we're going to need guys like Tanaka to be healthy and be in our starting rotation."
On a pitch count of 80-85, Tanaka, on the DL since April 29 with a right forearm strain and right wrist tendinitis, still managed to give the Yankees (29-25) seven innings.
The Yankees went 4-3 on this trip after dropping three of four in Oakland.
"Going into this game, I didn't expect to get seven," Joe Girardi said. "God, he was really, really good . . . That's probably as good stuff as he's had all year."
Tanaka, through his translator, agreed.
"It was the best outing I have had this year so far," said Tanaka, who threw 78 pitches, including 58 for strikes.
Tanaka (3-1, 2.76), with a fastball that peaked at a season-high 96 mph, allowed one run, three hits and no walks. He struck out a season-high nine and retired the final 13 batters he faced, cruising after Garrett Jones' two-run homer in the fourth gave the Yankees a 3-1 lead.
"He looked filthy on the mound, he looked nasty today," said Jones, who homered in two straight games. "The way he was going, the swings they were taking, there was a good shot that [my homer] was all we needed."
Chris Capuano allowed a hit in the eighth and, taking no chances with one out, Girardi called on closer Andrew Miller. The lefthander was fortunate to get through that eighth inning without allowing a run, hitting a batter and walking one to load the bases, but got out it. He allowed a two-out single in the ninth but notched his 17th save.
The only downer occurred in the bottom of the second when catcher Brian McCann was replaced by his backup, John Ryan Murphy, because of what the club called "right foot soreness." McCann will undergo an MRI on Thursday in New York.
"We've been managing it," Girardi said of soreness that McCann first felt May 24. "At times it's felt good, at times it's hurt a little bit, but today for whatever reason it got really sore after that first inning so we had to make a move."
Tanaka was perfect through two innings, striking out three, but his defense also saved him twice. In the first, third baseman Chase Headley made a diving stop to his left of an Austin Jackson ground smash, throwing to Teixeira for the out.
In the second, Didi Gregorius, playing just to the right of second base in the overshift, made a diving stab of Seth Smith's shot up the middle and threw the rightfielder out.
The Mariners tied it in the third when Brad Miller led off with a triple and came in on Dustin Ackley's double, making it 1-1. But rookie leftfielder Ramon Flores, who made his MLB debut Saturday, threw out Ackley at the plate on Morrison's single and the Mariners (24-29) never threatened Tanaka again.
"It's just one outing," said Tanaka, the one person in a Yankees uniform not doing verbal cartwheels over the start. "It was a good outing, but it's just one outing. I can't be too high about that. Right now, maybe celebrate today, but starting from tomorrow I will look forward to my next outing."