ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The Yankees have officially reached a crisis point with Masahiro Tanaka.
Obviously, they’re not calling it that, but something clearly is amiss, with few signs of improvement.
The righthander, clobbered last Sunday night against the Astros, wasn’t much better Saturday afternoon, failing to get an out in the fourth inning of a 9-5 loss to the Rays in front of 22,864 at Tropicana Field.
“Hopefully we see a different guy,” Joe Girardi said beforehand. But it was more of the same, and Tanaka was the biggest contributor to the Yankees’ third straight loss and seventh in the last 10 after a 21-9 start.
Tanaka, who allowed eight runs and seven hits (including four home runs) in 1 2⁄3 innings against the Astros, gave up six runs and nine hits (including three home runs) in three innings-plus against the Rays.
That’s 14 runs and 16 hits, including seven home runs, in Tanaka’s last 4 2⁄3 innings. He has allowed 13 home runs in 48 innings and has a 6.56 ERA.
“Today the first inning, the split was real good, then it kind of left, and it led to a bunch of problems,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. “The slider I thought overall was pretty good, but the fastball location was where he really got hurt . . . I think we need to kind of go back to square one and go back to some basics. I think we need to simplify some things.”
Said Girardi: “We have to get him right. His stuff was better than his last start, but it’s still not where we need it to be.”
Tanaka’s outing was part of a crazy afternoon at the Trop. Girardi and Rothschild were ejected in the bottom of the fifth inning for disputing balls and strikes. Aaron Judge was hit by Rays starter Matt Andriese in a retaliatory gesture in the sixth, a half-inning after Tommy Layne hit Corey Dickerson, who had driven in four runs with a pair of homers in his first two at-bats.
Andriese, who allowed five runs and six hits in five innings-plus, immediately was ejected by plate umpire Scott Barry. Andriese also hit Matt Holliday in the fifth after allowing a homer by Gary Sanchez.
Still, all of that was a distraction from what has become of Tanaka. The Yankees ace, who has an opt-out after the season, is a train wreck. In four starts since pitching a three-hit shutout on April 27 in Boston, Tanaka has allowed 21 earned runs and 34 hits, including 10 homers, in 18 innings.
“Confidence is there,” Tanaka said through his translator. “You have to have confidence. Going up on the mound, if you don’t have confidence, obviously that’s not a good thing . . . Bottom line is I just wasn’t able to do a good job out there.”
Girardi and Rothschild are convinced of Tanaka’s health. “There’s been no indication of that,” Rothschild said of a possible injury. “Watching his arm action and what he does in between [starts] and everything, there’s no indication of that.’’
Layne saved Tanaka from a much worse line. After replacing him with two on and none out in the fourth, Layne walked Logan Morrison to load the bases. Then Steven Souza Jr. hit a line shot right at Didi Gregorius, Colby Rasmus lined out softly to Starlin Castro and Tim Beckham grounded out to end the inning.
Judge hit his 15th homer in the second, Chase Headley added a two-out, two-run double in the fourth and Sanchez hit a two-out solo homer in the fifth to cut the Yankees’ deficit to 6-4, but Layne and Giovanny Gallegos combined to allow three runs in the bottom of the fifth as the Rays went ahead 9-4. Tanaka, however, was the story.
“I don’t look at it like a pride thing, but the bottom line is I just couldn’t get the job done today or the previous outing,” Tanaka said. “Bottom line is I have to be better than that.”