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Masahiro Tanaka looks better, but still isn't at top of game in Yankees' Game 1 victory over Mets

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees walks to the

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees walks to the dugout as he leaves in the seventh inning against the Mets during the the first game of a doubleheader at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

With all that’s been swirling around the rotation of late, the Yankees very much could have used a reassuring outing by Masahiro Tanaka Tuesday afternoon.

Whether they got one or not very much was in the eye of the beholder.

The righthander, who allowed a combined nine runs (eight earned) and 15 hits, including three homers, in his previous two starts, allowed five runs (four earned) and seven hits, including a homer, over 6 2/3 innings in the Yankees 12-5 victory over the Mets, the first game of the split doubleheader.

“Obviously it was a pretty busy couple of days,” said Tanaka, who returned to the club Monday after being away since last Wednesday as he was with his wife, who delivered the couple’s second child, a daughter, on Thursday. “But I think my stuff was actually a little bit better compared to the last couple of starts, so I felt pretty good out there. And it’s always good to get a win.”

There was no eye-of-the-beholder ambiguity on the quality of James Paxton’s start in the nightcap. The lefthander, making his third start since returning from the injured list (left knee inflammation), had nothing, allowing six runs and seven hits over 2 2/3 innings in a  10-4 loss. The performance was enough to question the health of the pitcher’s knee, which he said even as he came off the IL that he  still felt a degree of discomfort.

“It’s not a factor,” Paxton said afterward of the knee. “Just a bad game on my part.” 

Tanaka’s split and slider are two of his primary strikeout pitches, but he struggled with both in his previous two starts. He threw four scoreless innings in his previous start, June 4 in Toronto, before allowing four runs in the fifth, three of those coming on homers off hanging sliders.

Aaron Boone was encouraged by Tanaka’s entire arsenal Tuesday afternoon and, perhaps most important, the length he provided.

“That was huge,” Boone said of Tanaka pitching into the seventh. “I thought his split was better, and I thought it was better in Toronto, frankly. I thought we saw a number of good splits. Even in that last inning, he was able to step on some fastballs, he elevated the fastball, he did a good job of that, and the slider continues to be a really good weapon for him to both righties and lefties.”

Tanaka, who struck out seven and did not walk a batter, agreed that the splitter was “better,” but was frustrated at being touched up for four runs in the third.

The homer he surrendered, a three-run blast hit by Jeff McNeil in the four-run third inning that put the Yankees in a 4-1 hole, came on a first-pitch splitter.

“Giving up four runs in one inning, that’s three games in a row I’ve given up a couple of runs in just one inning, and you really don’t want to do that,” Tanaka said through his translator. “That’s kind of the bad part of the outing today.”

Of the split McNeil hit out, Tanaka said he regretted it immediately.

“I would have wanted to take that one back,” he said. “When it came out of the hand, I knew it wasn’t going to be good.”

But the Yankees didn’t help Tanaka much, either, committing three errors. The third inning started with the second error in four games for Didi Gregorius, who made a poor throw to first on Amed Rosario’s leadoff grounder. After Tomas Nido singled, Juan Lagares smacked a grounder back up the middle that deflected off a diving Gregorius, the RBI infield single tying it at 1. Next came McNeil’s blast.

“I thought he threw the ball well,” Boone said. “We didn’t make a couple of plays behind him, obviously, that kind of extended some innings there and made the line a little worse. But other than the McNeil home run, I thought he was pretty good today.”

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