ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — On a night the Yankees were poised to add to an area of strength, Masahiro Tanaka showed things might not be quite so dire in the rotation, which has been a clear area of need.
Tanaka retired his first 12 hitters and threw his sixth career complete game in a 4-0 victory over the Rays Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. Late Tuesday the Yankees were closing in on a deal for Orioles closer Zach Britton but remain in the market for starting pitching.
Though it was only one start, Tanaka, featuring a killer splitter, allowed three hits and struck out nine to match a season high. It was the continuation of signs Tanaka might be getting on a roll, terrific news for a rotation needing a boost.
“It came at a really good time for us,” Aaron Boone said.
It was a needed victory for the Yankees (64-35), who moved within five games of the Red Sox in the AL East.
Tanaka (8-2) lowered his ERA to 4.09, and his numbers were 5-0, 3.98 in his previous 11 starts. Tanaka has allowed a team-high 18 homers in 15 starts, including at least one in each of his previous eight, a streak he happily ended.
“It’s satisfying to go nine innings,” Tanaka said through his translator. “But we have a lot more games to play. I’ll allow myself to celebrate tonight and then back to business tomorrow.”
The Yankees scored in the first against Yonny Chirinos (0-2) on a Didi Gregorius groundout that brought in Brett Gardner, who led off with a single.
Austin Romine, the starting catcher again with Gary Sanchez’s return to the DL, drove in two runs, on a groundout in the fifth and a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Neil Walker’s single in the ninth made it 4-0.
“Just ran into a dude,” Rays rookie leftfielder Jake Bauers said of Tanaka, “who had an unreal night.”
Notes & quotes: Brandon Drury, who started at second base, left the game in the fifth inning with a left hand contusion after being hit by a pitch . . . Gleyber Torres (right hip strain), after playing three rehab games over the last four days with High-A Tampa, is scheduled to be activated from the DL for Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Rays . . . Aaron Hicks, who slid awkwardly into second on Monday’s game-ending play, was “banged up,” Boone said, and sat out Tuesday. He’s expected to play Wednesday . . . To replace Sanchez on the roster, Kyle Higashioka was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to serve as Romine’s backup . . . The MLB Players Alumni Association named Romine as the winner of the Yankees Heart and Hustle Award.