Yankees Postgame Notebook: Tanaka plays the 'hiro in Game 1
Pitching on six days rest because of Tuesday's rainout, Tanaka was literally untouchable in Game 1 of the Yankees' doubleheader with the Cubs, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out 10 over eight shutout innings in a 3-0 win.
"There were questions about his transition and him being used to throwing on a seven-day schedule, but so far he's done well," Girardi said of Tanaka's season so far. "We were encouraged by what he did in spring training, and he's pitched really well. We're very happy with where he's at."
"Maybe one extra day helped," Tanaka said through his interpreter, "but I felt much calmer and more comfortable on the mound today."
Both of the Cubs' hits off Tanaka were bunt singles - one of which was the result of an umpires' review and reversal of an initial out call - and he retired 14 Cubs in a row between Junior Lake's initially disputed single in the second and Anthony Rizzo's shift-busting poke leading off the seventh.
"I thought he had outstanding command of both his split and slider today, and he used a few curveballs to get ahead in the count, which was important," Girardi noted about the tour de force performance.
Added pitching coach Larry Rothschild: "He had the most consistent stuff today out of his three starts so far; his slider was consistent, he had good fastball command, a good split, and he even had a few good curveballs, which is a pitch he doesn't use much. He can do a lot with two strikes, and that's huge too."
Ten of the times Tanaka had two strikes he ended up getting the third, and in doing so he set a record: per Elias Sports Bureau, the Japanese righty has now recorded the most strikeouts of any pitcher ever in their first three starts as a Yankee, as Tanaka's punch-out of Mike Olt in the eighth was his 28th of the season - surpassing the 27 that "Bullet" Bob Turley amassed in 1955.
And, in addition to all he did numerically on the mound, perhaps Tanaka's biggest contribution was that he saved the bullpen for Game 2. Girardi said that there was no chance Tanaka was going out for the ninth given the weather and the fact that it's only April - but it was no matter, as Shawn Kelley pitched a scoreless ninth to continue what has been a great season so far for the relief corps.
"It allows you to do some things in the second game. Any time you can get distance out of starters when you have a split doubleheader and you're playing the next day is extremely important," Girardi said.
On the other side of the ball, the Yankees' offense wasn't spectacular against Cubs starter Jason Hammel, but they didn't have to be. Carlos Beltran got them on the board with a first-inning homer, giving him three straight with a round-tripper, and a fourth-inning sac fly by Dean Anna and a fifth-inning catcher's interference play that ended as a Jacoby Ellsbury RBI groundout tacked on the insurance.
After all, on a day where the starter was so dominant, why not try some new things, right?
A few other notes in the wake of Game 1:
-On that catcher's interference play, which came with one out in the fifth, Ellsbury was thrown out at first as McCann scored, and the Yankees had the choice of keeping that or having Ellsbury reach but McCann stay put at third. Girardi chose the latter, saying that "with no one out you might think about it, but with one out, I think it's better to take the run."
-Girardi said he once been involved in a play like that, back in what he thought was a 1990 game between the Cubs and Pirates: "Paul Assenmacher was pitching and I was catching, and Bobby Bonilla hit a three-run homer on a catcher's interference call and they kept it…I was hoping they wouldn't, and (Assenmacher) said it would've went foul if I hadn't had catcher's interference," he laughed.
-Shawn Kelley allowed only a bloop single by Rizzo in the ninth, but ended up getting his fourth save and further cementing the skipper's confidence in the relief corps: "There was some concern when Robby (David Robertson) went down and everybody had to move up, but these guys have don a real great job down there. It's been really, really important."
-The Yankees and Cubs will indeed get a 26th man for tonight's game, and in the Yankees' case, they have recalled RHP Shane Greene from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
-Last word goes to the skipper, describing how, even after a performance like today's, there's still little Masahiro Tanaka can do to live up to the hype surrounding his move to MLB: "It's not every day you get a guy coming off a season where he was 24-0, so it probably would've been extremely difficult for him to live up to it anyway."