NEW YORK -- Following the roughest outings of Masahiro Tanaka's season, the ones where fans and the media wondered if the right-hander truly was healthy, the Yankees pointed to a shutout at Fenway Park and a 13-strikeout effort against the A's as evidence that the ace's talent was there.They have
NEW YORK -- Following the roughest outings of Masahiro Tanaka's season, the ones where fans and the media wondered if the right-hander truly was healthy, the Yankees pointed to a shutout at Fenway Park and a 13-strikeout effort against the A's as evidence that the ace's talent was there.
They have a new example for that list. Matched against fellow Japanese starter Yu Darvish, Tanaka delivered what manager Joe Girardi called "his best performance of the year," blanking the Rangers on two hits over eight innings in the Yankees' 2-1, 10-inning victory on Friday at Yankee Stadium.
"I was excited going into the game," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "But once the game starts, then you're not actually going against Darvish, you're going against the Texas lineup. My focus was on every batter, every pitch. I think I was able to throw with good conviction. I'm really happy with the results."
Tanaka's focus showed. He fired first-pitch strikes to 25 of 27 batters, a 92.6-percent mark that is the best in the Majors this year. Tanaka retired 16 consecutive batters from the first out of the third inning through the second out of the eighth. In 100 pitches, he walked just two and struck out nine.
"It's great to see Masahiro get back on track," outfielder Brett Gardner said. "The stuff was really, really sharp. He's still Masahiro, he's still capable of pitching like an ace. I think everybody in this room still believes in him. He went out tonight and showed what he is capable of doing."
With catcher Gary Sanchez calling on a crisp slider, splitter, fastball and curve, Tanaka generated 23 swinging strikes, the second-highest total of his career. The only start where he tallied more was his 13-strikeout performance against Oakland on May 26.
"My stuff was there tonight," Tanaka said. "I think Sanchy called a really good game, and there were some really good defensive plays as well. I think it was a team effort tonight."
This outing came after a seven-start stretch since his last victory on May 8 at Cincinnati in which Tanaka was 0-6 with an 8.91 ERA, allowing 33 earned runs in 33 1/3 innings. Also, the Yankees had lost eight of their previous nine games.
"You really need this one," Girardi said. "When you get a performance by Tanaka like that, where he shuts down a team that's been scoring runs and is able to hit the ball out of the ballpark, you need to win that game."
Tanaka said that Friday's game bolsters his confidence, but when he gets back to Yankee Stadium on Saturday morning, his new goal will be to figure out how to keep it going.
"Obviously, you want to try to build on this, but I try not to think that way," Tanaka said. "Just prepare for the next game, prepare well, and try to go into the game and give your best performance."
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat.