If you compare Mashiro Tanaka’s first two starts, they are nearly identical. Tanaka has struggled in the early innings, but eventually settles down and gives the Yankees a solid outing.
In both of his starts, he has allowed home runs on pitches he left hanging up in the strike zone. Melky Cabrera took him deep in his first start, while yesterday it was Jonathon Schoop who took him yard. I know what you’re thinking, that’s advice that you could give to any pitcher. But it’s true, and is especially important for a pitcher who relies so heavily on a split-finger fastball. Tanaka doesn’t hit 95-98 on the radar gun, he can’t afford to be pitching up in the zone, as he doesn’t throw hard enough to get away with those mistakes.
One of the biggest adjustments Tanaka will have to get used to is the depth of these MLB lineups. Japan has some great teams and players, but those lineups don’t even begin to compare to what he will be dealing with this season. In both of his starts, the #9 hitter has done damage against him. Against the Blue Jays, Jonathon Diaz drove in two runs with an RBI single and yesterday, as I mentioned earlier, Schoop accounted for all of the Orioles runs against Tanaka. In the MLB, especially in the AL East, damage can be done anywhere in the lineup. There is never any room to let up, no matter who the hitter may be, they all must be treated as if they are a dangerous bat, because they are.
April 4 against Toronto: 7 IP, 2 ER, 6 hits, 1 HR with 8 Strikeouts
April 9 against Baltimore: 7 IP, 3 ER, 7 hits, 1 HR with 10 Strikeouts
Although his splitter gets all the attention, and rightly so, the rest of his repertoire has proven to be very effective. Tanaka isn’t a one trick pony out there on the mound, he keeps hitters on their heels with a wide arsenal of pitches. But sometimes this can cause a problem for pitchers, as they want to work in all of their pitches, instead of sticking with what’s working. This is where the veteran Brian McCann will help behind the plate. McCann will keep him inline and avoid fooling around with too many pitches just for the sake of throwing them. Sometimes you have to just follow Crash Davis’ advice in Bull Durham “Don’t think, just throw”.
Now I’m obviously picking apart little nuances from his starts, but that’s what you do to a pitcher who signed a contract for $155 million. Although hitters will soon be making adjustments, so too will Tanaka. It looks like the Yankees avoided another Kei Igawa signing and have more of a Yu Darvish type on their hands. So far, so good for the Yankees and Tanaka.