Masahiro Tanaka threw only 59 pitches in his second start of the season and did about as much as anyone could with it.
The righthander completed five innings of one-hit shutout ball with no walks and five strikeouts. When he faces the Braves on Wednesday night at the Stadium, he could be allocated around 80 pitches and the Yankees are looking forward to seeing what he can do with it.
“[Tanaka’s] stuff looks great,” manager Aaron Boone said. “I mean he's thrown the ball really well: the splitter has been good, the life on the fastball has been excellent [and] that continued feel of his breaking ball. I feel like he's incredibly sharp right now and the stuff is coming out really good.”
The slider and splitter were especially devastating against the Rays on Friday at Tropicana Field. Tanaka retired the last 13 Tampa Bay hitters he faced.
“Considering how I pitched my last outing, I thought it was really good,” Tanaka said through an interpreter when asked how he felt about the sharpness of his pitches. “I felt like I had good execution of all my pitches and I thought it was really good. I feel like I put the necessary work in to go into tomorrow's game. So hopefully, I can perform in the way I did my last outing, I think, always, the important thing is to be consistent.”
In what has been one of the scariest sights since players returned for the 2020 season, Tanaka took a 112-mph line drive off the right side of his head while throwing batting practice to Giancarlo Stanton in the July 4 summer camp workout. He suffered a concussion and has been working his way back since.
He made his first start Aug. 1 and threw 51 pitches. Friday’s 59-pitches was part of a plan to gradually increase his workload. He should be up to a midseason pitch-count in the last week of August.
“I wouldn't say he's in midseason form from a stamina [standpoint]; We're still building him up,” Boone said. “I think he threw around  pitches last time out. He'll get a bump up from there [Wednesday], but he's still not all the way built up to where he will be hopefully in a couple more starts.”
“I feel pretty built up. Physically I feel fine,” Tanaka said before the Yankees too the field Tuesday night. “As far as how deep I’ll go in tomorrow’s game . . . I don't think there's much of a drastic increase in the number of pitches that I'll be able to get. But within that given pitch amount, I'm going to go out there and give my best.”
How Tanaka progresses this month bears watching as he is expected to play a major role for the Yankees in their quest to win the World Series. Tanaka, at the top of his game, would figure to slot in right behind Gerrit Cole in any postseason rotation. And Tanaka has been a proven big-game commodity: he is 5-3 with a 1.76 ERA in eight postseason starts.
“He's great pitcher and he's been incredibly reliable [during] his entire Yankee career,” Boone said. “Obviously he's been great in in big games and I feel like just the stuff I'm seeing right now is as good as any time since I've been here that he's thrown the ball.
“I think we're all encouraged about where Masa is,” Boone added, “in his buildup back to having that full allotment of pitches when he goes into a start.”