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Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild expects Masahiro Tanaka to bounce back nicely

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees walks

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees walks to the dugout alongside pitching coach Larry Rothschild before their game against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on June 27, 2015 in Houston. Credit: Getty Images / Scott Halleran

When it comes to Masahiro Tanaka, it's not yet -- to borrow a phrase rapidly gaining traction in Flushing -- "Panic City."

Two consecutive bad starts don't portend disaster for the rest of the season, but when the righthander takes the mound Friday night at the Stadium against the Rays, there will be some curious, if not nervous, eyes on him.

"I think it's really important that we get him going," Joe Girardi said. "He's had a couple of rough outings after some really good ones and we have to get him back on track."

After spending a little more than a month on the disabled list with right wrist tendinitis and a right forearm strain, Tanaka went 2-1 with a 1.71 ERA in his first three starts, looking far better than he had before the injuries.

But in his fourth and fifth post-DL starts, Tanaka (4-3, 3.88) allowed 13 runs (11 earned) and 17 hits in 10 innings. That includes the career-high six earned runs he allowed in Houston on Saturday, when he coughed up an early 6-0 lead.

"He's nickel-and-diming everything and just doesn't seem to want to throw the fastball," one opposing team talent evaluator said after the start in Houston, also suggesting that Tanaka isn't pitching inside as much. "The split is still good but teams aren't swinging at it as much, and they're teeing off on the other stuff that just isn't as sharp as we've seen."

Tanaka left Anaheim at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, flying before the team -- which was scheduled to arrive in New York between 6 and 7 a.m. Thursday -- so he could get two good nights of sleep before Friday night's start, so he was not available to the media.

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild, without going into detail about an approach to hitters, spoke in general terms about what he and Tanaka addressed in two throwing sessions between this start and last Saturday's.

"Worked on fastballs one day and then threw a normal side the next [one],'' Rothschild said Wednesday.

There has been plenty of talk about Tanaka not using his four-seam fastball as much as before, which Rothschild would not discuss publicly.

"He's worked on some things mechanically,'' he said, "but pitch selection I'm not getting into."

Rothschild, a baseball lifer and long considered one of the game's elite pitching coaches, said running into a rough stretch isn't unusual.

"As I talked to him about, there's going to be bumps in the road," he said. "There's not a pitcher who's ever pitched in this league and been any good that hasn't gone through this."

The start Tanaka got off to last season in his first MLB season -- 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA through 14 outings -- might have set the bar a bit high.

"It's just with him, because of the record he had in Japan and when he first got here that the expectations probably got a little bit unreasonable for him," Rothschild said. "Everybody goes through it. There's adjustments you have to make, and I think he's going through that period right now."

After the start in Houston, Tanaka said "I'll overcome this," and Rothschild doesn't see any reason he won't.

"There's some frustration, which there should be, and as long as that frustration leads him to correction and adjusting what we need to adjust, it's good," he said. "I wouldn't expect him to take it just in stride because it's been a while since he's had any struggles, really. But again, the good ones come out on top of it, and I expect he will."

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