Masahiro Tanaka's scheduled start against the Cubs Tuesday at Wrigley Field is like a sigh of relief for the Yankees' injury-depleted pitching staff. Coming off his first complete-game shutout against the Mets, Tanaka has been as dominant as any pitcher in Major League Baseball in his rookie season.
Tanaka has a 6-0 record, 2.17 ERA, has held opposing hitters to a .214 batting average and has compiled an imposing 66/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
"I felt I had a pretty good game last time," Tanaka said of his win over the Mets. "Basically, I just try to carry that on to the next game. But we're facing a different team and we'll be facing different batters, so I'm just going to focus on getting outs again."
Actually, the Cubs had a chance to familiarize themselves with Tanaka on April 16 at Yankee Stadium, but they can't take any confidence from it. Tanaka pitched eight shutout innings and gave up a season-low two hits. Asked if he's worried how he'll fare the second time around against a team, Tanaka shrugged it off.
"I try to adjust once I get into the game, depending on how the batters react," he said through an interpreter.
If anyone has reason to be confident, it's Tanaka. He was 24-0 for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last year in Japan and has shown no signs of letting up despite the drastic change of scenery. After facing Tanaka, the Mets' Daniel Murphy said, "I knew what was coming, but I couldn't hit it."
Asked if he had any doubts about his ability to fool MLB hitters before his arrival, Tanaka brushed the thought aside, saying: "If I had so much doubt, I would have never come here. I would just be playing in Japan."
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said Tanaka has three basic pitches -- curveball, splitter and slider -- and can throw the occasional cutter. But his command makes it seem like more.
"He can command his curveball, throw the split for both strikes and balls and the slider he can use in and out of the strike zone," Rothschild said. "So that becomes a lot more pitches. It's obviously when he uses them both in strike counts and when he can expand the zone."
Comparing the two baseball worlds he has straddled effortlessly, Tanaka said: "Basically, I think the batters here have more power, and they have longer reaches. Overall, I think the level of the batters here might be better than Japan.
"That's what I came here for."