Joe Girardi made the decision with one eye on Jose Bautista and the other on the rest of the season.
Despite having thrown only 80 pitches (51 strikes), Masahiro Tanaka did not come out for the seventh inning of his start in the Yankees' 2-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
It's not as if he was having a horrible day. Tanaka (8-5) allowed only three hits, although two of them were long solo homers by Josh Donaldson and Bautista. He struck out five, walked none and lowered his ERA to 3.79.
"I thought he threw the ball pretty good," Girardi said. "Six innings, two runs, didn't give up a lot of hits. It's unfortunate the two hits he did give up were home runs, but I thought he threw the ball pretty well."
One of those homers came off the bat of Bautista, a no-doubter in the fourth inning that clanked off the Poland Spring sign in front of the second deck in leftfield. Three innings earlier, Bautista sent an offering from Tanaka to the warning track in leftfield for a long out.
Bautista was set to lead off the seventh against Tanaka before Adam Warren replaced him. But the overriding factor in pulling Tanaka was his health. Girardi saw an opportunity to spare his ace some pitches, and he took it.
"I was good to go. I could have pitched a little more out there," Tanaka said. "I kind of understand the decision. I think Joe was looking toward the whole season rather than this game.
"We didn't talk about it before the game."
For Girardi, proceeding with caution has been a priority when using Tanaka, who missed 51/2 weeks after an April forearm and wrist injury.
"He hasn't thrown many days on normal rest," Girardi said. "So I just felt like it was the first time he's really done it in a long time and I decided to take him out.
"This is not something we've done this year to him. So it was the first time, and we know he's really important to us moving forward."
As far as this becoming a recurring strategy, Girardi said he wasn't sure: "I'll have to figure that out as he goes.''