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Yankees hope Masahiro Tanaka can build off strong start

Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka hands the ball to

Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka hands the ball to manager Joe Girardi on Monday, June 12, 2017. Credit: AP / Jae C. Hong

ANAHEIM, Calif. — No one was ready to declare Masahiro Tanaka fixed after one good outing, but the righthander’s performance Monday night certainly provided hope.

“That,” Joe Girardi said, “was encouraging.”

Tanaka allowed three runs (only one earned) and four hits in 6 2/3 innings of a 5-3 victory over the Angels, earning his first victory since May 8 and lowering his ERA to 6.07. Tanaka had been 0-5 with a 10.72 ERA in his previous five starts.

“We have to build off this to make sure he can put them back to back to back so he gets the feeling of everything being right,” Girardi said. “For the most part I thought the stuff was right [Monday]. Everything was on time and it was right, so you want to build on that.”

The first inning did not portend the kind of success Tanaka ended up having.

He allowed a home run to his second batter of the game, Kole Calhoun, then walked Albert Pujols on four pitches.

Unlike far too many of his starts this season, however, Tanaka didn’t let things spiral. Utilizing the best slider and split he’s had in weeks, as well as fastball command that had been mostly lacking this season, Tanaka retired 15 of the next 16 he faced. He walked two in the game and struck out eight, his second highest total of the season.

“I think he bore down,” catcher Austin Romine said. “He didn’t let it tumble into, ‘here we go again.’ He said ‘no, I’m not going to let this happen again.’ He started finishing his pitches, there was a little more purpose behind everything he was doing and he just shut them down.”

Through his translator, Tanaka said, “I felt like I did a better job of everything.”

“I had good concentration on the mound, I felt like I was able to execute all my pitches well,” he continued. “Just went out and did everything that I needed to do. [I’m] happy to get the results I got.”

Of the Calhoun homer, Tanaka said it wasn’t something he dwelled on.

“It’s something that happened so it’s in the past, that’s kind of what I thought,” he said. “I didn’t think much about it and tried to go out there and just pitch.”

Romine said he was especially pleased with Tanaka’s splitter, a pitch that led to so much past success but had mostly been flat this season.

“I noticed, personally, the split, it felt a little heavier, which means he was finishing the pitch and it was doing what it’s supposed to do,” Romine said. “I thought he took a step forward.”

It cannot be underestimated what a Tanaka of the past three years could mean to the Yankees. When spring training broke, he was considered the one sure thing in the rotation, surrounded by question marks.

Instead, Tanaka is the only one of the five starters that had not performed well. CC Sabathia, Tuesday night’s starter, entered his outing 7-2 with a 3.66 ERA. Luis Severino is 5-2, 2.75, Michael Pineda is 7-3, 3.39, and rookie Jordan Montgomery is 4-4, 3.55.

“I think it can be big for him because he is a guy that’s used to having success and he’s struggled,” Girardi said of Tanaka. “He’s thrown some good games for us but he struggled recently . . . but he looked good.”

Tanaka said having the kind of outing he did Monday didn’t give him peace of mind from an individual standpoint. Rather, he took note of a five-game winning streak the team embarked on after he allowed three homers in a 5-4 loss to the Red Sox last Tuesday.

“More than anything the team has been winning consecutively after my loss,” Tanaka said, “so I’m happy and relieved we got the win today.”


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