Tanaka hit hard for 2nd straight start
Pitching coach Rothschild wants righty to be more aggressive in strike zone
HOUSTON -- The dazed expression on Masahiro Tanaka's face required no translation, with the Yankees pitcher captured staring in disbelief toward the train tracks above Minute Maid Park's left-field wall while Jose Altuve rounded the bases for his game-tying home run in the fifth inning.
After coughing up an early six-run lead, Tanaka could take some solace in that his teammates battled back to post a 9-6 victory over the Astros on Saturday. That did not make another rough outing, particularly the back-to-back homers from Altuve and Carlos Correa, any easier to swallow.
"Honestly, I was a little bit shocked because it seemed like he was off balance a little bit," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I think he got the barrel of the bat on the ball and that's the reason why it went out."
The Astros enjoyed more than their share of solid, loud contact against Tanaka, whose last two starts may be setting off alarm bells in the Yankees' clubhouse. He has surrendered three home runs in successive outings after never having done it before, and was tagged for a career-high six earned runs on seven hits in this outing against Houston.
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said that he believes Tanaka has not been aggressive enough, dotting around the strike zone with more cutters than the team is used to seeing. Rothschild said that is something that they will work on before Tanaka's next start, as well as mechanical adjustments.
"You use all your pitches, but you have to stay on the attack," Rothschild said. "He's behind in the count a lot more, is putting himself in bad counts. He's probably just going through one of those things. As long as he's healthy, he'll come out of it."
That health issue is the natural first question; manager Joe Girardi joked that he will probably be asked about Tanaka's health for "the rest of my life" because of the partially torn ulnar collateral ligament that truncated Tanaka's rookie season.
Despite that, Girardi said he believes his ace has no injury issues. Tanaka's fastball maxed at 94.3 mph and averaged 92.4 mph on Saturday, according to Brooks Baseball, which the Yankees believe he could not be doing if there was an injury problem.
"I'm not saying they're not logical [questions], but I think if you see a guy throwing 93, 94, and he's not holding his arm, you feel pretty good about his health," Girardi said. "We've seen what happens to guys when something happens. They grab it."
Still, Girardi expected to have this contest on cruise control when his hitters built a 6-0 lead for Tanaka after two innings, with Brian McCann hitting a grand slam and Chris Young launching a two-run homer off Brett Oberholtzer.
The visions of a deep Tanaka outing and a rested bullpen for Sunday's series finale didn't materialize, as Tanaka allowed two runs in the second inning, a Chris Carter homer in the fourth and the dual blasts to Correa and Altuve in the fifth before ending his day at 98 pitches.
"Pitching is location," McCann said. "It's about dictating the counts, keep hitters off balance. Today he fell behind. He walked a couple of leadoff hitters. You chalk it up and get ready for the next start."
"It's really a feel thing," Tanaka said. "It's just that the mechanics are off and that's causing my pitches to not go where I want them to. That's all I can say."
If Tanaka does not require a date with an MRI tube, then what could explain the 13 runs (11 earned) he allowed to the Tigers and Astros over his last 10 innings?
Tanaka threw two bullpen sessions with Rothschild to iron out flaws, asking to throw more, and they thought he had the issue figured out. It's back to the drawing board, with another long wait before he gets the ball.
"There's always stuff to work on and things to do," Rothschild said. "As long as he's healthy, I'm not as concerned. Obviously we need him to pitch well here because he's such a big part of the rotation. I think he will as long as he's healthy. There are some things we need to talk about and get straightened out. We'll address that."