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Yankees still trying to figure out what’s wrong with Masahiro Tanaka

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees walks

Masahiro Tanaka of the New York Yankees walks to the dugout after the fifth inning against the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Tuesday, June 6, 2017. Credit: Jim McIsaac

It’s the baseball version of a classic Catch-22 — a paradox that produces plenty of frustration but apparently no solution. In order for Masahiro Tanaka to have sustained success, he needs to be consistent and more relaxed on the mound. But in order to be consistent and more relaxed on the mound, Masahiro Tanaka needs to have sustained success.

Give Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild this, they really are trying to solve this head scratcher. They’ve examined the tape, they’ve picked apart the mechanics. On Wednesday, Rothschild told ESPN that the Yankees are considering pushing back Tanaka’s next start one day, so that he won’t face the homer-happy Orioles . . . merely, the Mike Trout-less Angels. Girardi said Tanaka is still slated to pitch on his normal day, Sunday.

“How do you get a person to stop pressing?” Girardi asked. “The only way that I ever felt like I could just go out and play is if I felt like I was prepared and did all the work that I could possibly do before a game, and that’s what he’ll do. Eventually, you have to have some results, I get that. You have to have some success because that allows you to relax a little more. So we’ve got to get through where he has some success.”

Nearly every question Girardi fielded before the Yankees took on the Red Sox Wednesday night centered on his erstwhile ace, and for good reason. Tanaka often has repeated that he’s not hurt, but he also doesn’t look anything like himself. He allowed three home runs Tuesday against the Red Sox, bringing his season total to 17 (he’s never allowed more than 25 in a season). His ERA is up to 6.55, one year removed from a season in which it never surged above 3.51; his splitter lacks life, his slider has seen better days. If Tanaka finds a groove, as he did in a 7 1/3 inning performance against Oakland last month, he struggles to replicate it.

“It’s not that in a sense that when he throws a pitch that gets hit that Larry doesn’t see what’s happening,” Girardi said. “Larry knows what’s going on, but it’s getting him to consistently repeat it.”

Tanaka is still on rotation, Girardi said, but when asked about moving him to Monday, he said the team has discussed a number of options. It should be noted that the Yankees don’t have an off day between now and then, so moving Tanaka would require finding an arm.

“There’s different things that we talk about,” Girardi said. “I’m not ready to share anything with you yet.”

Tanaka said Wednesday that no one has asked him to pitch on a different day, nor has he asked to be moved back. “It’s basically up to the manager where he wants me to throw,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m going to prepare myself to go on the mound whenever he wants me go.”

And maybe all these tweaks will be enough. Girardi said they’re continuing to “find out why there’s inconsistencies in his stuff.” He and Rothschild have talked about it plenty, all in an effort to solve that Catch-22 that has their rotation in limbo. But make no mistake, they’re concerned.

“I think it’s human nature,” to be concerned, Girardi said. “I’m not going to lie to you. Any of us who go through what he’s went through is probably going to be frustrated, have a little doubt. That’s human nature. You’re a professional athlete. You’ve got to get back up. You’ve got to fight. You’ve got to get through it.”

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