For all the grumbling and groaning from New York Yankees fans, perhaps Masahiro Tanaka still has a little savvy left.
Tanaka’s third start against the Tampa Bay Rays — a 6-1 victory Friday night — was a lot better than his first two. In fact, it was one of the best starts in baseball this season. Tanaka became the second pitcher in 2017 to strike out at least 14 and allow two hits or fewer. The other was Clayton Kershaw against the Brewers.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Tanaka is the third Yankees pitcher to have such a start, joining David Cone against the Marlins in 1998 and CC Sabathia in 2011 against the Mariners.
Tanaka has a 3.06 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and perhaps the biggest positive indicator, a strikeout-to-walk rate of 9.3-to-1 in his past seven starts (he had a 6.34 ERA in his first 14 starts). He hasn’t walked anyone in his past three starts.
Tanaka’s first two starts against the Rays were a disaster. He had a 20.65 ERA and .515 opponents’ batting average in them. The biggest problem he had was that the Rays were on his splitter, going 8-for-13 with a home run and two doubles against it.
On Friday, they went 1-for-11 with a season-high six strikeouts in at-bats ending with that pitch. That included 12 missed swings against it, tied for the third most in any start in his career.
Tanaka’s splitter has found its form. In those first 14 starts, opponents hit .258 with four home runs and a 36 percent rate of missed swings against the pitch. In his past seven starts, opponents have hit .150 with no home runs and a 43 percent miss rate against it.
The issue now for Tanaka is consistency. In this seven-start stretch, he’s had two scoreless outings, but prior to this one, he had allowed five, three and four runs in his previous three starts. He’s also allowed at least one home run in each of his past four starts.