ST. PETERSBURG -- The Yankees are going back to the drawing board with Masahiro Tanaka, who at this juncture appears to be further away from an ace-caliber pitcher than he has ever been in his Major League career.
Tanaka was rocked for six runs and nine hits over three-plus innings in the Yankees' 9-5 loss to the Rays on Saturday at Tropicana Field, serving up three homers -- two to Corey Dickerson, including a tape-measure three-run drive, and one to Yankee nemesis Evan Longoria. Tanaka's ERA stands as a bloated 6.56.
"I think we need to go back to square one and go back to some basics," Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild said. "He likes to change some things occasionally, but I think it's easier when things are going well to make some adjustments than it is when things are going bad and try to make too many adjustments. We need to simplify some things and in his mind make the game a little bit easier and not try to complicate it."
Tanaka hasn't been competitive in his last two starts, permitting seven homers over a total of just 4 2/3 innings against the Astros and Rays, who collected 14 runs and 16 hits over that span. Tanaka's splitter and slider were both absent when he took the mound following Sunday's Derek Jeter Night ceremonies, and he was banking on a bounceback effort at the Trop.
"I do see some of the things I did wrong, but more than anything, I do have to take this loss," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I just wasn't able to get my job done. I need to move forward, learn from the mistakes, try to correct it and try to get that right and come back strong."
Dickerson led off with a homer against Tanaka, who owns a 13.00 ERA this year in the first inning. He has served up leadoff homers in two straight starts -- Houston's George Springer took some of the air out of the Jeter ceremony with an immediate blast earlier this week.
"We have to get him right," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He made some mistakes with his fastball. His stuff was better than his last start, but it's still not where we need it to be, and we need to continue to work at it. He's not making the pitches he was last year."
Rothschild said that he believes Tanaka is healthy, an oft-asked question over the last three years.
"He even threw [Friday], a little touch and feel, just to get on a mound with some of the adjustments he wanted to make," Rothschild said. "I think if he's not, then he wouldn't have done that. It doesn't look like there's anything with the arm. Sometimes location can be part of the problem, but that's not what he's saying. There's no indication of [an injury]."
Rothschild said that he thought Tanaka's splitter was good in the first inning on Saturday, but it disappeared. His slider seemed to be a reliable pitch, but poor fastball location was responsible for most of the damage.
"Fastball location is important, because when he misses with it, it's just not a good pitch," Rothschild said. "He's not going to have the power to get by with it, and he's always been really good at it. Right now it's moving right over the plate, whether it's trying to go in on a left-hander or go in on a right-hander. They're being yanked, they're being pulled."
Leading up to Saturday's start, Tanaka tinkered with where he stands on the pitching rubber, hoping that would create different angles to fool hitters, but Rothschild said that change didn't yield any noticeable results on Saturday. Tanaka refused to discuss that thought process.
"I can't really go into details on that," Tanaka said. "I can't go ahead and analyze and start talking about that right now. Like I said earlier, the bottom line is that I just wasn't able to do a good job out there. I have to go out and try to be better next time out."