Pitching at Yankee Stadium for the first time can be an overwhelming experience for some. For Masahiro Tanaka, it looked and felt like another routine day at the office.
Sure, there were the early hiccups that were reminiscent of his MLB debut in Toronto. On that night, Melky Cabrera greeted him with a lead-off home run, and then a second inning error by Mark Teixeria led to two more runs. On Wednesday, Baltimore's Jonathan Schoop connected on a three-run homer in the second inning, which again put Tanaka on the ropes early. However, like his debut, Tanaka was able to dig down and give manager Joe Girardi seven innings of three-run ball, while adding 10 strikeouts to his early total on seven hits and one walk.
That's a quality start per statistical definition. It's also a workmanlike performance that will quickly earn your manager's appreciation because it takes pressure off the bullpen. That's an especially big deal for New York considering the questionable depth in their bullpen even before closer David Robertson hit the disabled list this week.
Tanaka's resilience was rewarded in his debut as the Yankees offense rallied to give him the victory. Though he was even a little bit better on Wednesday, he'd have to settle on a no-decision in New York's 5-4 loss to the Orioles. A disappointing result, but one Tanaka takes his share of the responsibility for.
"Throughout the game, I think, I was able to battle," Tanaka said through an interpreter, "but with two runners on and [giving] a home run to the ninth batter, that I can't do."
"I thought he battled out of some tough jams today," manager Joe Girardi said. "I thought he made some pitches when had to. Again, it seemed like he got better as the night went on."
It's often said if you don't get to the good ones early, chances are you'll never get to them at all. That seems to apply to Tanaka, who didn't just impress his own manager.
''He is as good as advertised,'' Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Tanaka.
"I thought it was the best acquisition of the offseason, A guy like him, at that age, that was the key. I don't blame them. If I were in their situation, I'd do the same thing."
Indeed he has been as advertised through two starts, and no stat drives the point home more than his impressive 18-1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Tanaka is also the first starting pitcher since Stephen Strasburg in 2010 to start his MLB career with two games of eight strikeout or more. That’s good company and a better start than fellow countryman Yu Darvish, who over the weekend became the fastest pitcher in MLB history to reach 500 strikeouts. It wasn't until his fourth outing that Darvish notched his 18th strikeout.
There's probably a better script that could have been written for the start of Tanaka's MLB career — a no-hitter, a perfect game, a 20-strikeout outing, etc. — but realistically speaking the Yankees have to be thrilled with his performances and his bulldog demeanor. As this rate, it may not be long before they're officially acknowledging Masahiro Tanaka as their ace.
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