TORONTO — The back end of the Yankees bullpen again did its job, a trend that was not unexpected.
But another April trend continued in a 3-2 victory over the Blue Jays Tuesday night in front of 28,819 at Rogers Centre, this one an unwelcome one:
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A starter failing to provide significant distance.
Masahiro Tanaka, who made it through 5 2/3 innings in his season-opening start April 5 against the Astros, lasted only five innings against the Blue Jays.
“I didn’t think his stuff was really sharp the first few innings,” Joe Girardi said.
Fortunately for the Yankees (4-2), the righthander, even as his pitch count ballooned thanks to a 29-pitch first inning, wasn’t bad, allowing two runs, three hits and four walks.
But looking at the bigger picture, if Girardi has to continue dipping into his bullpen in the sixth inning, the unit will be spent before the All-Star break.
There was also some initial concern afterward for Brian McCann, who took a foul ball off his left big toe in the fifth inning and stayed in the game before being replaced in the ninth by Austin Romine. McCann underwent a “fluoroscope” test, which came back negative. No further tests were scheduled but Romine is slated to start Wednesday’s game.
“It’s sore,” said McCann, who had blood drained from the nail during the game but still ended up 2-for-3 with a homer. “I’m thankful it’s not broken.”
After rookie righthander Johnny Barbato (1-0), who picked up his first career victory, pitched a scoreless sixth, Jacoby Ellsbury’s RBI single off Brett Cecil in the seventh gave the Yankees a 3-2 lead. McCann’s second homer of the season, a shot off Aaron Sanchez, had tied the score in the top of the inning.
Chasen Shreve came on in the seventh and pitched two-thirds of an inning. He walked Josh Donaldson, giving way to Dellin Betances. Donaldson stole second but Betances struck out Jose Bautista looking at a knee-buckling curveball to end the inning.
“That’s as good as it can be I guess,” Betances said of the pitch.
Betances struck out two in a perfect eighth, and Andrew Miller pitched a perfect ninth for his second save, giving the bullpen, expected to be the No. 1 Yankees strength this year, a 0.84 ERA.
“They were tremendous,” Chase Headley, who went 2-for-3 and made two standout defensive plays at third, said of the bullpen. “We’re lucky we get to see that quite a bit from those guys.”
A bit too much and too early in some of these games, however.
Tanaka originally was scheduled to face the Tigers Sunday in Detroit before a rainout pushed his start to Tuesday night. Before the game, Girardi expressed concern that the six-day layoff might hurt the pitcher’s “sharpness.”
Tanaka then labored through a 29-pitch first inning, en route to 71 pitches through three, though he did well to keep the powerful Blue Jays (3-5) at bay, mostly because of a splitter that helped him strike out six.
Tanaka quickly retired the first two hitters he faced, but walked Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the latter after getting ahead 0-and-2. Tanaka went to a full count against Troy Tulowitzki, eventually striking out the shortstop on a splitter.
“His split was really what saved him today,” Girardi said.
The righthander didn’t completely agree.
“I didn’t necessarily think my splitter was good tonight but as we got deeper in the game it got better and, yes, it might have saved me a little bit,” Tanaka said. “I felt like I was able to hang in there. I feel fortunate that I was able to keep the score to a minimum.”