Tanaka relishes beating Iwakuma, playing stopper

Yanks halt 4-game slide in first MLB matchup of ex-Japanese teammates

April 17th, 2016

NEW YORK -- Sure, it was meaningful that Masahiro Tanaka walked away with the victory after going head-to-head with the Mariners' Hisashi Iwakuma, whom he admired greatly back when they were teammates with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

But what Tanaka was really proud about -- and what the Yankees needed more -- was that he stepped up as their stopper. Tanaka halted New York's four-game losing streak with a sharp effort Sunday, helping the Yankees to a 4-3 victory over Seattle at Yankee Stadium.

"I'm extremely satisfied being able to get that win," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "Obviously facing against a former teammate, that was one thing, but another thing was that I was able to help stop the four-game skid. In that sense, I think today was a good day."

Tanaka permitted three runs (two earned) and scattered six hits over seven innings, striking out six without a walk in what manager Joe Girardi judged to be his finest effort of the young season.

"I thought his stuff was really good today," Girardi said. "He gave up the three runs, I think two earned, and really, it's the best game he's pitched all season. He really could've thrown a shutout."

The outing was the longest by a Yankees starter through 11 games, and Tanaka said that the warmer weather -- 64 degrees at first pitch, which was beamed back to Tokyo at 2:09 a.m. Japan Standard Time -- helped him feel more comfortable on the hill than it had against the Astros on Opening Day.

Catcher Brian McCann said that Tanaka's arm strength seems to be building, a positive sign for a Yankees club that fretted about his health late in the spring.

"I think velocity is a big thing," McCann said. "When you're throwing 92, 94 [mph] and your best out pitch is a split, everything plays up. As a hitter, you have to make your decision quicker, and you're going to get a lot more swings and misses."

Tanaka was handed a few unfortunate bounces in a 24-pitch first, with Robinson Cano beating out an infield hit, Nelson Cruz slapping a cue shot single to right and Kyle Seager knocking in a run on a fielder's choice, but he was able to keep his composure.

"Certainly there was some unluckiness there, but if I get my head down because of that, then I felt like I would get more unlucky," Tanaka said. "Just tried to keep my head up, keep grinding it out, and I was able to get through that inning."

Steve Clevenger cashed an unearned run with a fourth-inning RBI single, taking advantage of a Mark Teixeira error, and Norichika Aoki scored on a fifth-inning single after Jacoby Ellsbury missed a diving catch in center field that went for a triple.

Shrugging that off, Tanaka seemed to get better later, retiring his final seven batters. McCann said that Tanaka was generating more swings and misses on his splitter, and that he created an angle on his four-seam fastball late in the game that "was as good as I've seen."

"I think my mechanics were good," Tanaka said. "I had some life to my fastball. With that, some of my offspeed stuff was a little bit sharper, so I think that was the key to success today."