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OK, Masahiro Tanaka is pretty good

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka delivers

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka delivers in the first inning of a baseball game at Yankee Stadium in New York, Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Toronto Blue Jays Jose Reyes hit Tanaka's first pitch over the right field wall for leadoff, solo home run. Photo Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

Moments after his second complete-game victory of the season last Wednesday night, Masahiro Tanaka participated in an on-field interview with YES.

The 4-2 victory over the Mariners in Seattle improved the righthander to 10-1. Now he's 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA after allowing one earned run in six innings in last night's 3-1 win over the Blue Jays. He leads the American League in wins, and he's 5-0 with a 1.26 ERA since his lone defeat May 20 against the Cubs in Chicago.

By any objective measure, Tanaka is in the early -- very early, it must be stressed -- discussion for three major awards: the AL Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and, yes, MVP.

So how would he evaluate his season to this point?

It had been, Tanaka said through his translator on YES, "OK."

In the days that followed, when the comment was repeated to them, more than a few in the clubhouse laughed out loud or shook their heads.

As David Phelps, one of Tanaka's rotation mates, put it: "Everyone else in this clubhouse, if we had his numbers, we'd be ecstatic right now. But I think he's on a mission to prove how great he can be."

Brett Gardner was among those who laughed -- "I think we could say it's been a little better than 'OK,' " he said -- but then turned serious.

"First of all, when he says that, I think he means it, I really do," Gardner said. "I don't think he's just [messing] with everybody and trying to say the right thing, so to speak. I really think that's him and who he is. That's how he thinks and that's why he's as successful as he is at this young of an age."

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild said the achievements Tanaka brought to the United States, including a 24-0 record with a 1.27 ERA in his final season with the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan, is a partial explanation for how self-critical the 25-year-old is.

"He's had a lot of success, so I think he sets the bar pretty high for himself," Rothschild said, adding he noticed that attribute early in spring training.

Said Phelps: "That's one of the things that makes him so good is that he sets a really high standard for himself. That's one thing that makes a great pitcher a great pitcher is that, regardless of how great he's pitching, he can always find something in his outing he can improve upon."

The Yankees entered Tuesday night 11-2 in games started by Tanaka and, as Joe Girardi put it after the complete game against the Mariners, which improved his club to 33-31: "You look at our record, he's 10-1. He's got a third of our wins."

Phelps, though not doing so explicitly, brought up criteria that will be raised in any MVP discussion, such as pitching deep into games, which saves the bullpen, thus impacting more games than the ones Tanaka pitches.

Additionally, "he's been a stopper for us," Phelps said. "We've had some bumps and he's been definitely a stable source. It's really hard to get on a really bad streak when you've got him going every five days."

The even-keeled Rothschild, who has been in baseball for nearly 40 years, sounds as if he's found a kindred spirit of sorts in Tanaka.

"We've got a long way to go and he knows he's got a lot of games to pitch," Rothschild said, "so I don't think he's going to get too high or low about what he's doing. He's just going to go out there and methodically do what he does."

And few in the big leagues this season had done it more "OK" than Tanaka.


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