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Masahiro Tanaka does what he can to keep Yankees afloat

He again doesn't have his best splitter working but still pitches effectively in win over Royals.

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees delivers the pitch

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees delivers the pitch against the Royals during the third inning at Yankee Stadium on Saturday. Photo Credit: Steven Ryan

Masahiro Tanaka didn’t have all of his best material on the mound Saturday at Yankee Stadium and still managed to survive nicely in the Yankees’ 9-2 win over the Royals. But Aaron Judge didn’t make it to the other side of nine innings after hurting an oblique, not just another injury to throw on an extra-large pile.

The Yankees already had a dozen men out. They didn’t need an unlucky 13, especially someone Tanaka called the “heart and soul of our team.”

So Tanaka is just looking for this team to try to survive as well as it can until its best material returns. Presumably Judge won’t be hitting homers, as he did with a solo shot in Saturday’s game, and manning rightfield for a while.

“Obviously, it’s going to hurt us,” Tanaka said via an interpreter. “There’s no doubt about that. But the bottom line is to go out there, each individual that can play, and go out there and do their jobs. I’m no different in that case, too.

“But if we can hold our ground, keep playing some good baseball, then once we get our injured list guys back, then I feel like we can kind of explode and be in a good spot. So just hold our ground for now and just grind it out.”

Just the way Tanaka did for a season-high seven innings in beating the Royals for the first time in three career starts against them. He allowed one run, four hits and three walks and struck out seven despite not having his good splitter.

“Really impressive,” said Aaron Boone, who couldn’t watch him from the dugout after being ejected during the home half of the third inning. “In a lot of ways, it was a struggle for him today. The split wasn’t really there for him that much. Command was in and out a little bit. But he pitched and made pitches. He’s great at his craft, as I always like to say.”

The Yankees climbed back to .500 at 10-10 and Tanaka moved to 2-1 and dropped his ERA to 2.76 through five starts. Catcher Austin Romine said “his slider was very good” and that Tanaka used his fastball more to compensate “for the split being a little lacking.”

“Masa’s got a lot of weapons that he can use,” Romine said.

Tanaka yielded a leadoff triple to Billy Hamilton in the third but pitched out of it with two strikeouts and a groundout. Whit Merrifield finally nicked him for a homer to right-center to open the sixth.

“I just tried to keep being aggressive, just pound the strike zone,” Tanaka said.

After allowing one earned run in each of his first three starts, Tanaka gave up five runs and seven hits, including a grand slam, in four innings-plus in a 5-2 loss to the White Sox last Sunday. Afterward, he bluntly stated that he didn’t have the splitter or any of his other pitches working.So this marked consecutive starts with some issues, but he wasn’t really sweating over that.

“It basically comes down to the mechanics,” Tanaka said. “But once you’re in the game, you just have to be aggressive and go with what you have. [I have to] just try to make some adjustments leading up to the next start and try to get some of my pitches back.”

Even without all of them functioning properly, there was just the one earned run allowed for the fourth time in five starts.

“It’s a testament to how good he actually is,” Romine said. “He doesn’t need his good stuff to go deep in a game and give us a chance to win a ballgame.”

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