Eventually, the bullpen would give way. Eventually, their prime-time hitters would go quiet.
For the Yankees, eventually was Friday.
Masahiro Tanaka produced a masterful five-inning performance, but the Yankees were stymied by Blake Snell and five Rays relievers as they fell, 1-0, at Tropicana Field.
Adam Ottavino walked Yoshi Tsutsugo to start the eighth inning, and Tsutsugo moved to second on Kevin Kiermaier’s one-out walk. A wild pitch put runners on second and third, and Michael Perez’s sacrifice fly produced the only run of the game.
The Yankees went 2-for-28 with five walks and nine strikeouts. They had scoring opportunities in the seventh and eighth, but Gary Sanchez struck out on three pitches with the bases loaded to end the seventh and Mike Tauchman’s baserunning mistake short-circuited a possible rally in the eighth. After he led off with a double, he was thrown out at third on DJ LeMahieu's grounder to short.
“Overall, I just didn’t think we had great at bats,” said LeMahieu, who had the other hit. “It’s just kind of disappointing . . . We’re too good of a team for that.”
It wasted an excellent performance by Tanaka, who seemed fully recovered from the 112-mph line drive off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton that hit him on the side of the head on July 4 during the opening workout of summer camp.
Tanaka allowed no runs, one hit and no walks in his five innings, striking out five — a great sign for a pitcher who is being slowly stretched out after his injury and who is integral to a rotation that has stumbled since the beginning of the season.
“That’s as good as you’re going to see Masa,” Aaron Boone said. “Hopefully we’ll start to see that improvement this time and the next time through the rotation, because I certainly know our guys are capable.”
Tanaka mowed down the Rays in the early innings, reintroducing an old delivery that had him starting with his glove above his head, and displayed a devastating break on his slider. Despite going only 2 2/3 innings in his only other start this year, he looked no worse for wear, inducing weak contact and finishing his outing by retiring 13 in a row.
“He’s certainly not built up to where he will be hopefully in another couple starts,” said Boone, who had predicted before the game that Tanaka would go three or four innings. “But he’s getting there.”
Tanaka certainly showed good returns with splitters and sliders that seemed nearly unhittable, mixed in with pinpoint fastballs high in the zone.
Tanaka’s achievement becomes increasingly more important as the Yankees work around starting pitching that has stumbled in the early days. Despite the 9-3 overall record they brought into Friday night, the Yankees’ rotation has been among the worst in baseball with a 5.44 ERA. Entering Friday, their relievers already had pitched 51 2/3 innings.
The 28-man roster provides plenty of leeway, but it’s still a concern, and one that becomes increasingly more pressing as the Yankees try to establish dominance in the American League.
“It’s something that certainly has to improve,” Boone said. “But I believe that Pax [James Paxton] will get it rolling here and become a stabilizer in our rotation. Obviously, we’re working Masa back. Monty [Jordan Montgomery] had a little bit of a hiccup yesterday working out of a strong opening outing.”
The situation certainly seems less worrisome when you include Masahiro Tanaka looking like Masahiro Tanaka.