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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

Stinker outing likely just one of bad days Masahiro Tanaka will have

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19)

New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) removes his cap after a mound conference in the second inning of a game against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium, Sunday, June 21, 2015. Tanaka allowed six runs in the first two innings, including two, two-run, home runs in the first inning. Photo Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

It was Father's Day, but it felt like the Fourth of July at Yankee Stadium Sunday with all of the rockets the Tigers hit against Yankees pitching.

Detroit had five home runs -- three by J.D. Martinez -- in its 12-4 victory. Two of them came against pitchers making their major-league debuts (Long Island's Danny Burawa and Jose De Paula, who gave up a home run to Andrew Romine on his first big-league pitch).

Of far more importance to the Yankees are the career-high three long home runs allowed by Masahiro Tanaka, who gave up seven runs (five earned) and 10 hits in five innings in his first stinker in four outings since coming off the disabled list.

You know what's coming next: Tanaka must be hurt if he doesn't pitch well every time out. That small tear in his ulnar collateral ligament must be ready to explode if the fastball doesn't light up the radar gun and the splitter doesn't dive.

Or maybe this is what Tanaka is. Not the dominating pitcher of the first part of his rookie campaign -- before his elbow started barking -- but a very good starter who occasionally will get lit up.

Even after Sunday's forgettable outing, Tanaka has a 3.17 ERA. It was 3.22 before he went on the DL on April 29 with wrist and forearm issues and is 3.12 since he returned on June 3.

For a total outlay of $175 million over seven years, we're sure the Yankees would prefer Tanaka to be all-world. But remember how even general manager Brian Cashman tried to temper expectations before Tanaka's 2014 season by suggesting he might be a good No. 3?

Obviously, he's more than that. But maybe he's closer to a No. 2 than the true No. 1 he appeared to be a year ago. Durability has to be part of the equation and, as the Yankees have learned, Tanaka has to be monitored closely for signs of fraying.

On Sunday, with an extra day of rest, Tanaka served up a two-run home run into the second deck in right by Victor Martinez in the first, a two-run blast to deepest left-center by J.D. Martinez two batters later and a solo shot to the netting over Monument Park (and the one-day-old plaques honoring Willie Randolph and Mel Stottlemyre) by J.D. Martinez in the fifth.

Manager Joe Girardi said it was "location" that hurt Tanaka. Agreed. Way over the fence three times is a very bad location.

"I was missing spots," Tanaka said through his translator, "and I was missing them by far margins."

J.D. Martinez, a righthanded batter, also hit a three-run homer off Burawa into the second deck in right in the sixth.

Burawa, the Rocky Point product who along with De Paula was returned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre after the game, wore No. 65, meaning the Yankees haven't gotten around to retiring Phil Hughes' number yet.

Based on his initial body of work last season, you'd have started scheduling Tanaka for a jersey retirement and Monument Park plaque ceremony someday. But the uncertainty surrounding his elbow as he tries to pitch without getting Tommy John surgery only intensifies the belief that eventually he's going to need the procedure, even if that's an emotional reaction and not a medical evaluation.

A two-out error by Didi Gregorius before J.D. Martinez's first home run didn't help Tanaka, but make no mistake: He just didn't have it. His fastball was straight and hittable and he threw only a handful of top-notch splitters.

Explanation? "I don't know if it was Father's Day," Girardi deadpanned. "I don't know. First day of summer? Who knows?"


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