Very little has been going right for Masahiro Tanaka over the past month. Since his gem of a complete game shutout against the Red Sox four weeks ago, he’s been giving up more home runs than almost any other starting pitcher in baseball—in his last two starts, he allowed a combined 14 runs on seven dingers and failed to make it out of the third inning either time.
Last night against the A’s, Tanaka made those struggles seem foreign. With a career-high 13 strikeouts in 7.1 innings, he walked none and allowed just one run. He still came away with the loss, as the Yankees’ offense was shut out in seven innings from Oakland’s Sean Manaea, but the difference between how he looked last night and how he’s looked over the last several weeks should be enough to feel like a personal win:
Tanaka’s biggest problem areas this season have been his walks (a career-worst 2.44 per nine innings) and those home runs (a career-worst 2.11 per nine). He’s struggling to find the zone, and when he does find the zone, he’s often leaving it right over the middle of the plate as Travis Sawchik wrote at FanGraphs earlier this week. His batted-ball profiles are the same as they’ve always been, and guys haven’t been making contact off of him any more frequently—they’ve just been taking advantage of an increasing number of mistakes right down the middle, while laying off an increasing number of pitches outside the zone.
But last night, Tanaka’s problems of control and command were seemingly absent. This was Tanaka very near his best—getting batters to repeatedly whiff at his slider, using his fourseam fastball only sparingly. Even with him at his worst, the Yankees were already giving the rest of the AL East plenty to be scared of, and an effective Tanaka only makes them that much scarier.