BOSTON — We can throw all the relevant numbers about the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka at you — and we will, don’t worry — but what it probably will come down to in ALDS Game 2 on Saturday night is one thing.
If it’s nasty, he’ll pitch well. If it’s not, balls could be flying over the Green Monster and Aaron Boone could be heading to the mound to make an early pitching change.
But fear not, Yankees fans: Tanaka said on Friday that he feels good about his signature pitch.
“I think it's at a good place right now,” he said through his translator. “You know, since I had my last outing, it's been a while, so I had that time to make the necessary adjustments. I like where my splitter is at this time and hopefully I can have that pitch with me when I go into the game.”
Tanaka last pitched on Sept. 26, allowing four runs (three earned) in four innings in an 8-7 loss at Tampa Bay. The start before that was against the Red Sox, and Tanaka pitched only four innings then, too. He gave up five runs and got a no-decision in the Yankees’ 11-6 loss.
Overall, Tanaka went 12-6 with a 3.75 ERA in 27 starts. He was 1-0, 7.58 in four starts against the Red Sox, allowing 29 hits, 16 earned runs and six home runs in 19 innings. His ERA in two starts at Fenway Park was 6.52.
In his career, Tanaka has had trouble with key Red Sox batters Mookie Betts (.310, two homers), Andrew Benintendi (.333) and J.D. Martinez (.444, three homers). Those were the first three batters in the Boston order when Tanaka faced them on Sept. 20.
Boone isn’t going to use an opener, so Tanaka will have to figure out a way to limit the damage right off the bat in what is sure to be a jacked-up atmosphere.
“I think I have an idea that it's going to be intense,” Tanaka said. “But me personally, I haven't experienced the Yankees vs. Red Sox playoff atmosphere yet. So you know at this point it's a guess, but I'm sure it's going to be intense.”
One thing Tanaka won’t have to worry about is the moment being too big. The righthander has a 1.44 ERA in four postseason starts, including three in the Yankees’ run to the seventh game of the ALCS last season.
“I think that experience does help, and maybe you rely on it a little bit,” Tanaka said. “But my mentality right now is just go into this postseason freshly, as a new experience.”