Tanaka gem 'just what the doctor ordered'

August 11th, 2019

TORONTO -- The swings and misses that 's reimagined arsenal had been generating all afternoon emboldened his manager to gamble, allowing the right-hander a chance to polish off the final three outs. It didn't happen, but the Yankees remained thrilled with the right-hander's performance.

Tanaka scattered three hits over eight-plus innings before Aroldis Chapman engaged in an epic 13-pitch battle with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., nailing down the save as the Yankees snapped their two-game slide with a 1-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Sunday at Rogers Centre.

"The key was to be consistent," Tanaka said through a translator. "That wasn’t really the case for the previous games. I felt like I was able to be pretty consistent."

Gio Urshela and Brett Gardner stroked back-to-back doubles off Trent Thornton in the fifth inning to produce the only run of the game, and if not for a questionable decision by the official scorer, Tanaka might have been prompting no-hitter alerts on smartphones across the globe.

The first batter that Tanaka faced reached base, as Bo Bichette’s chopper was briefly juggled by the third baseman Urshela. Bichette beat Urshela’s throw to first base and was credited with a single.

That proved notable when Tanaka did not permit another hit through seven innings, working from the stretch only after DJ LeMahieu bobbled a ball that permitted Justin Smoak to reach in the second inning. Otherwise, Tanaka faced one batter over the minimum through eight frames.

"It was just what the doctor ordered," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. "Masa came out and was really pitch-efficient, especially in the middle innings. I thought he was really cruising, and we needed it."

New York was primed to add more support in the sixth, loading the bases with one out, but Thornton induced Urshela to bounce into an inning-ending double play. Tanaka didn't flinch, leaning on his slider heavily. He threw it 36 times, nine of which resulted in outs and eight in swings and misses.

"I didn’t actually plan on throwing a lot of sliders going into the game," Tanaka said. "It was more of having a good feel of it, and also looking at the hitters and seeing what they are trying to do. It’s a matter of trying to keep them off-balance."

Having tinkered with his splitter grip at the suggestion of pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Tanaka used his trademark offering 28 times, producing eight outs. He retired 17 consecutive Jays before Smoak took the official scorer off the hook with a clean single to open the eighth.

“He was vintage Tanaka today, he was good,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “We’ve been swinging the bat well. All of his pitches were down in the zone. We were off-balance the whole day."

Tanaka's effort came at a good time for the Yanks, who have used their bullpen heavily of late and will lean on those arms for a doubleheader on Monday against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium.

"He just stayed on top of his stuff all day," catcher Austin Romine said. "He executed a good amount of pitches. It was nice to see. It was nice to get some depth from the guy when we definitely needed it.”

Entrusted to begin the ninth, Tanaka's 94-pitch effort came to an end when Brandon Drury led off with a clean single to left field. That prompted Boone to emerge from the dugout, summoning Chapman to finish off the Yanks' sixth shutout of the season (and first since July 12 vs. Toronto).

It didn't come easily, as Guerrero fouled off seven of the 13 pitches he saw before hitting into a double play.

"It was solely my call to send [Tanaka] back out there, mostly because I felt really good about where he was," Boone said. "I thought he was still really sharp, and even when I took him out of the game, the hit to Drury was just a ball that found a hole. It was kind of how he pitched all game, a little bit off the barrel."