NEW YORK -- July is in the rearview mirror, just two months remain in the regular season and the Yankees will need to depend on a newly bolstered starting rotation more than they have all season. With Yankees ace Luis Severino in a bit of a rut on the mound as of late, Masahiro Tanaka has stepped up.
After tossing a three-hit shutout at Tampa Bay last time out, Tanaka pitched another six scoreless innings Tuesday night, permitting just three hits and striking out eight batters to help lift the Yankees to a 6-3 victory over the Orioles at Yankee Stadium. With a 3-1 Red Sox loss to the Phillies, the Yankees moved to within five games of first place in the American League East, and they are a season-high 31 games over .500.
Tanaka battled through a 31-pitch first inning, putting two runners on by hitting Jace Peterson and walking Adam Jones with one out, but he struck out Mark Trumbo and forced Chris Davis to ground out to second to escape the early trouble. From there, the Yankees' starter cruised through the next five innings.
"Obviously it was a tough inning," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I didn't have a good feel for the ball or the plate, so it was a grind. I think it was really good that I was able to get out of that inning without giving up any runs and was able to pick it up after that inning and be a little more effective."
Tanaka has now tossed 17 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings and posted a 1.76 ERA in his last five outings. His longest career scoreless streak was a 17 2/3-inning stretch in August 2016. The right-hander is also undefeated in his last 13 starts (since April 23), going 6-0 with a 3.47 ERA during that span.
"I think it was this time last year where he really started to turn it on, too, after the All-Star break," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "He started to pitch well down the stretch and then I think everyone saw how great he was in the postseason. So, hopefully, we're seeing him kind of follow a similar script right now and kind of really start to round into form. ... It's really good to see because he's really important and I absolutely feel like he can be that good No. 2 [starter]."
The Bombers got on the board on a first-inning RBI single by Gleyber Torres before Didi Gregorius knocked in a run on a bloop single to left in the third. In the fifth, Greg Bird lifted the team's MLB-leading 42nd sacrifice fly of the season, and Miguel Andujar followed with a three-run blast to the left-center-field bleachers off Orioles starter Yefry Ramirez, who allowed six runs on six hits through five innings.
"Just try to see a good pitch to hit the ball hard and not try to hit anything specific," Andujar said of his approach. "I'm feeling really good. I feel good in my plan. Every time I go to home plate, I have my plan. I try to get a good pitch to hit and I try to hit the ball hard."
Baltimore scored two runs on a Jace Peterson double off Yankees reliever A.J. Cole in the eighth before a runner scored on a error just a few pitches later. Albertin Chapman came on in the ninth to convert his 22nd consecutive save opportunity, recording his 29th of the year.
In the third inning, Brett Gardner recorded his 251st career stolen base, tying Willie Randolph for the third-most in Yankees history.
HE SAID IT
"That was huge. You start getting to that point in the inning and you're maybe another hitter from having to start to get somebody up. So great job by him of reining it in a little bit. I think he struggled a little in that first inning with his command in his slider a little bit, but he really settled in from there, made the necessary adjustments and got real pitch-efficient. To be able to get us through six tonight the way he did, he continues to pitch well for us, obviously that's huge for us going forward." -- Boone, on Tanaka bouncing back from the 31-pitch first inning
Sonny Gray will close out the two-game set against the Orioles on Wednesday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Gray (8-7, 5.08 ERA) will be seeking his fourth consecutive win for the first time since he won five straight in July 2014. Last time out, he allowed just three hits in five innings but left the game after getting struck on the right thumb by a comebacker. Gray has a 1.10 ERA in his last three starts. Right-hander Alex Cobb (2-14, 6.08) will get the ball for Baltimore.