TAMPA -- After striking out the first six Tigers he faced and finishing with four perfect innings against Detroit, Yankees ace Masahiro Tanaka was as modest as he was dominating.
"Very satisfied," Tanaka said of his perfect afternoon.
That's quite the understatement when you consider it took until the third inning for the Tigers to put a ball in play. Tanaka now hasn't allowed an earned run in his first three starts this spring.
What stood out to Tanaka about this dominating performance?
"The way I finished off some batters and also the two-seamer, especially the movement on it," said Tanaka.
The two-seam fastball was on display from the very beginning, as Tanaka had complete command of his entire repertoire. After striking out the side in the first on 17 pitches, he upped the ante in the second, only needing 12 pitches to do it again. Tanaka finished with seven strikeouts.
"Obviously I'm satisfied with it," Tanaka said. "You get two strikes and then you're able to finish off the batter, so yes in that sense, I am satisfied."
Tanaka only needed 45 pitches for his four perfect innings. He has nine scoreless innings this spring in three starts. That would be a cause for celebration for most, but Tanaka tempers his excitement based on the current competition.
"I mean obviously you want the results, but you can't just look at that," said Tanaka. "We have the [World Baseball Classic], not to downgrade anybody, but a lot of the good players are playing in the WBC, so the batters that you're facing might be a little bit different too. So in that regard, it wouldn't really be safe just to look at the results."
Tanaka knows the better competition will come, so he will use performances like Saturday's to set the tone for this season in which he hopes to eclipse 200 innings for the first time in his career.
"I would like to go somewhere close to 220 or 230 [innings]," Tanaka said.
That would be a hefty workload for a Yankees starter who expects 2017 to be his best season yet.
"You want to make it into a reality. As a player, you always want to become better," Tanaka said.
As effective as Tanaka has been the past three seasons, he still isn't mentioned in the same breath with Major League Baseball's elite pitching class, which boasts the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Jacob Arrieta and Madison Bumgarner.
"I think those guys have earned it over time. Part of [Tanaka's] maybe not being in that conversation is he hasn't been an 18-, 19-, 20-game winner," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "But when you look at him, he's vital for us. he's really important for our staff."
Tanaka took catcher Gary Sanchez's callup in stride last season, and their comfort level has improved this spring.
"I feel comfortable, very comfortable," Tanaka said. "We've been going at it with each other towards the end of last season, and I think we're pretty much on the same page now as well."
"I thought they got on the same page fairly quickly last year, I think they're very comfortable together," added Girardi.