Yankees-Twins Preview

The Associated Press

After suffering one loss while running up a gaudy record in his first 14 starts in the major leagues, Masahiro Tanaka has dropped back-to-back outings.

Though there's no cause for concern around the Japanese sensation, there seems to be plenty to worry about for the rest of the New York Yankees.

Tanaka tries to help the visiting Yankees snap a season-high five-game skid in Thursday night's series opener against Phil Hughes and the Minnesota Twins.

Tanaka (11-3, 2.10 ERA) had won five straight starts with a 1.26 ERA before suffered losses in his next two, despite pitching well in both. The right-hander yielded three runs over seven innings in an 8-0 defeat to Baltimore on June 22 before going the distance in Saturday's 2-1 loss to Boston.

Tanaka surrendered a tiebreaking homer to Mike Napoli with two outs in the ninth on a fastball after twice shaking off catcher Brian McCann.

"There is no wrong pitch with Tanaka," McCann told MLB's official website. "Every pitch he throws is the right pitch. He throws it with conviction, and it was the right pitch."

Despite the back-to-back defeats, Tanaka can become the first pitcher to record a quality start in each of his first 17 outings since at least 1914. He is tied with Steve Rogers, who set the mark with Montreal in 1973.

Tanaka will try to play the role of stopper for the Yankees (41-42), who have dropped nine of 11 and scored 13 runs during their five consecutive losses. New York, set to open an 11-game road trip, hasn't dropped six in a row since May 11-16, 2011.

"I still believe in this team," manager Joe Girardi said following Wednesday's 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay. "We just need to play better. It's a lot of different phases. ... We have to find a way to get it done."

The Yankees continued to struggle with runners in scoring position, going 1 for 9 to give them a .141 average in those situations during their 3-8 stretch.

Tanaka is tied for the major league lead in wins, ranks first in the AL in ERA and averages 1.40 walks per nine innings, behind Hughes' MLB-best mark of 0.87.

Hughes (8-4, 3.58) is coming off his second consecutive five-run outing, yielding a career high-tying 11 hits over 7 2-3 innings of Saturday's 5-0 loss at Texas. The right-hander, in contrast, was terrific against the Yankees in beating his former team 7-2 on June 1, yielding two runs and three hits over a season high-tying eight innings.

Minnesota took two of three at Yankee Stadium that weekend, with its only loss coming by a 3-1 score against Tanaka on May 31. He surrendered one unearned run and struck out nine over eight innings.

The Twins (38-45) have dropped seven of nine after falling 4-0 to Kansas City on Wednesday. Chris Parmelee had two of the four hits for Minnesota, which went 0 for 3 with runners in scoring position.

"We've got to hit and we're not doing it," said second baseman Brian Dozier, mired in a 1-for-28 slump. "We're streaky in all aspects right now."

Parmelee has gone 12 for 24 in his past six games, but he's 2 for his last 19 against New York.

The Yankees won't have to worry about facing Joe Mauer, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list before Wednesday's game with a strained muscle on his right side. He was batting .362 with 12 RBIs during a 12-game hitting streak.

New York has won five straight and 14 of 17 in Minnesota.

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