Masahiro Tanaka feels like he’s back to top form as he returns to Yankee Stadium on Tuesday to face the Nationals.
It’s hard to believe it was only one year ago that Masahiro Tanaka was baseball’s biggest phenomenon.
For the last 11-12 months when the Japanese righthander’s name came up it was in the context of a concern. Last summer it was “how bad is the small tear in his elbow ligament?” And “will he be able to come back?” In the offseason there was the debate of whether surgery was a better move than the rehab route he and the Yankees decided to take. And during this season, first there were questions about whether he was pitching differently, and then whether his recent trip to the disabled list for a forearm strain was related to last summer’s elbow injury.
One year ago Tanaka was 11-1 with a 2.02 ERA and perhaps the best pitcher in the American League. And that’s how good he feels again as he heads into Tuesday’s marquee pitching matchup against Washington’s Max Scherzer at the Stadium.
The first-place Yankees will be looking to extend a season-high six-game winning streak as the two big free agent pitching prizes from the last two offseasons oppose each other. Tanaka (3-1, 2.76 ERA) came over from Japan on a $ 155 million deal before 2014. Scherzer (6-4, 1.85 ERA) signed a $ 210 million contract before this season.
Last week Tanaka returned from the DL to face Seattle and held the M’s to one run over seven innings with nine strikeouts while hitting 96 mph for the first time in a year.
Max Scherzer is 6-4 with a 1.85 ERA this season after signing a $ 210 million deal with the Nationals.
“It’s pretty similar to the good run that I had last year,” Tanaka said through an interpreter, confirming this is the best he’s felt in a long time.”
The idea of Tanaka in top form isn’t exciting to just Yankees fans. The energy is felt throughout the clubhouse.
“We just added to the team a guy who is going to help us in a very positive way, a guy we’ve seen who is capable of beating everyone on a regular basis,” Carlos Beltran said. “We showed we are a good team even without him. Now we’re even better. . . . You saw him pitch and you know that with him like that we just became a stronger team.”
During that strong start to his rookie season, Tanaka’s fastball regularly climbed into the mid-to-high 90s. In the first month of this season 91 or 92 was the maximum and one concern was that he wasn’t letting it loose out of for fear of hurting the elbow. That he is again dialing it up to 96 is a likely indicator that nothing — physical or mental — is holding him back.
Tanaka looks like his dominant self in his first start back from the disabled list.
“The extra velocity makes guys speed up. It’s what it does,” manager Joe Girardi explained. “It’s not the key to pitching,
but it does allow you to do some extra things. . . . There’s a little bigger discrepancy between his fastball and his splitter. You can go up in the (strike) zone a little bit.”
“I guess velocity is important in some aspects, but I look at more of my command of the pitches,” Tanaka said. “If I’m being able to locate the ball where I want to — for me that’s more important.”
And against Seattle Tanaka’s accuracy was excellent. He didn’t walk a batter.
“All my pitches were coming out good out of my hand and also I was able to locate all my balls pretty good last outing,” he said. “(I liked) the command of my balls and how sharp all my pitches were.”
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.