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Masahiro Tanaka gives up three more home runs in otherwise stellar outing

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees pitches during a

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees pitches during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Yankee Stadium on Thursday, July 23, 2015. Credit: Errol Anderson

Questions, always questions.

Even after the Yankees' 9-3 victory over the Orioles Thursday completed a three-game sweep and solidified their first-place standing in the AL East, the performance of starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka once again came under scrutiny.

All because of the long ball -- he gave up three home runs in 7 2/3 innings -- combined with the continuing backstory of the $155-million pitcher who has experienced tendinitis in his wrist and a forearm strain this season after being shut down last year with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament.

"Not affected by the injury, that past injury," he said though his interpreter.

The question is basically standard fare for Tanaka.

Joe Girardi said of the homers, "That's not what you want to see." But Girardi tried to build on the positives, adding, "You can survive giving up solo home runs. You can survive and be very successful. It's when they're two and three-run home runs that you worry about. So you try to correct those things and move on."

Staked to a four-run lead in the first inning against Ubaldo Jimenez (7-6) on Chase Headley's three-run double and a run-scoring single by Didi Gregorius, Tanaka (7-3) started the second inning by giving up a homer to Chris Davis, his 21st, on an 0-and-1 pitch.

The Yankees continued to give Tanaka run support as Jacoby Ellsbury, who had three hits, homered in the second and the Yankees knocked Jimenez out in the third after Stephen Drew hit a two-run double.

Tanaka, who allowed five hits and struck out seven, was fine until the eighth inning when, with one out, J.J Hardy homered to left-center. Two batters later Manny Machado, who lofted a Tanaka pitch to the warning track in left in the first inning, smashed a ball to left on a 1-and-1 count for his 21st homer.

"Those last two home runs, just a mistake on my side," Tanaka said. "I felt pretty good all the way through the day. You kind of want to go out of the game strong, but I gave up those two home runs. Not particularly happy about that but we'll adjust and go about it next time out."

Catcher John Ryan Murphy said of Tanaka, "He fell behind Hardy. He got a 2-0 fastball in the middle of the plate. Machado, we hadn't gone [inside] on him since that first at-bat and probably should have gone straight to the splitter. [Tanaka] tried to go in and he hurt us."

Tanaka was asked if he thought he might have pitched that last inning differently in a closer game. "Yeah, possibly, possibly," he said. "Just because it was a 3-1 game you might be throwing a different pitch compared to that inning . . . but I didn't lose focus. The focus was there. I just made some mistakes. The pitch selection I thought was good. It was just the location. I didn't command it well enough."

Tanaka has given up 15 home runs in 13 starts, six behind team leader CC Sabathia. Tanaka gave up 15 home runs in 20 starts last season.

As for his self-evaluation of his recent starts, Tanaka said, "Gradually the past three games it's been gradually getting better. But the goal is to get much better."'

Until then, the questions will remain.

New York Sports