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Masahiro Tanaka gets it: Bullpen, bats are helping him out

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka reacts

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka reacts walking to the dugout against the Boston Red Sox during the fifth inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, August 4, 2015. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

With Tuesday night's 13-3 win over the Red Sox, the Yankees improved to 11-4 in games Masahiro Tanaka has started. After the game, a reporter asked Tanaka if that's a statistic that makes him proud.

The 26-year-old righthander answered diplomatically and without hesitation, as if he were reading from a proofread script. "Yeah, absolutely," he said through a translator. "My goal is to try and bring a win to the team. So yes, I'm really happy about that."

But then, as a different reporter had already begun to ask him another question, Tanaka, unprovoked, felt compelled to add more.

"But I think that I haven't been that good recently," he said, "so I think I put a lot of weight on the relief guys and I think I'm being helped a lot from our offense."

It's true -- unlike last season, when he posted a sensational 13-5 record, 2.77 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, Tanaka has needed more help carving out wins in 2015. In his last eight starts, he has a 5.03 ERA. That includes Tuesday night's outing against Boston, in which he threw six innings of three-run ball, allowing five hits and a walk with three strikeouts.

His nemesis this season has been the long ball. In 136 1/3 innings last year, he allowed 15 home runs. Pablo Sandoval's blast on a 1-and-2 sinker gave Tanaka 16 homers allowed in 93 2/3 innings this season.

It's the one pitch from Tuesday night that he'd like to have back.

"That pitch to Sandoval, I think I could have gone with something else," Tanaka said. "Maybe a fastball out of the zone or possibly a breaking ball or splitter. I made that mistake and I paid for it."

Based on what he saw Tuesday, manager Joe Girardi believes it requires a relatively simple fix: locating pitches better.

"Thought he threw a pretty good tonight," Girardi said. "He just left a couple of pitches up."

Still, Tanaka (8-4, 3.84 ERA) has actually lessened his opponents batting average from .240 last year to .228 this season entering Tuesday.

As he puts more distance between himself and an April forearm and wrist injury that shelved him for 5 1/2 weeks, Tanaka inches closer to the 2014 version who took major-league baseball by storm.

"For me," Tanaka said, "I don't think I'm that far away from there."

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