After all the guessing, wishing and hoping over who might be arriving at the trade deadline, there are times when a team can do well to just appreciate what it already has. This was one of those occasions, and Masahiro Tanaka was a reason to be pleased.
The Yankees did not acquire the ace of their dreams, or maybe they did not need one. Perhaps they have one in Tanaka, who pitched six scoreless innings in a 6-3 win over the Orioles, who treated the deadline as if it were an Everything Must Go liquidation.
Do the Yankees believe he could be the co-ace, the No. 1-A starter alongside Luis Severino?
“I do,” Aaron Boone said. “I think it was this time last year when he really started to turn it on, too. He really started to pitch well down the stretch, and I think everyone saw how good he was in the postseason. Hopefully, we’re seeing him follow a similar script right now.”
There might be a mental asterisk required in reading the result at Yankee Stadium Tuesday night. Still, the Yankees can choose to see it as a mini trend because Tanaka pitched a nine-inning shutout in his previous start. He has not given up a run in 17 innings. This time, he allowed only three hits and two walks (both in the first inning) and struck out eight.
He was supported by a three-run shot by Miguel Andujar in the fifth inning. The decision brought the Yankees within five games of the Red Sox, who lost to the Phillies. Who knows what might happen if Tanaka keeps up this pace?
“I’m just trying to go out there and do a good job. Obviously, early in the season I knew that was not me. I guess I’m able to pick it up a little bit more,” the pitcher said through a translator. “It’s a ‘feel’ thing. I think the key point was before going out for the Tampa game [last Tuesday], just playing catch I feel like I kind of found it.”
Getting Tanaka back to health and in form after a month on the disabled list was sort of like making a good deal.
“Command,” Boone said, identifying Tanaka’s distinctive feature. “The split has been great. You can just see it in the hitters. They have such a reverence for that pitch. It’s just so hard for them to lay off. He’s doing a really nice job commanding it, starting it around the knees.”
This game started as if it were going to bring Tanaka to his knees. He required 31 pitches to get through a rough first inning against a club that further depleted its shallow talent pool earlier in the day by trading Jonathan Schoop. Boone was perhaps one batter away from getting the bullpen going. But Tanaka got on track and stayed there.
He believes he is making up for lost time, having hated his stay on the disabled list with hamstring injuries.
“It was just frustration,” Tanaka said. “Obviously, it’s your fault. You’re the one that got hurt. There’s no excuse for that. But as a player, it’s really difficult and hard and frustrating, having to sit out and not being in the action.”
Baltimore starter Yefry Ramirez (a bargain basement pickup from the Yankees exactly one year earlier) was no match for Tanaka. Through five innings, Ramirez was down 6-0. Gleyber Torres and Didi Gregorius each drove in a run with a single in the first and third inning, respectively. Greg Bird made it 3-0 with a sacrifice fly in the fifth, followed directly by Andujar’s three-run blast to the leftfield seats.
Speaking of Andujar, Boone said: “I feel like we’re witnessing a continued emergence of what’s going to be a really good hitter in this league for a long time.”
Boone also likes what he sees in a pitcher who might be better than anyone they possibly could have obtained in a trade: “I absolutely feel like he can be that good No. 2. He’s really important.”