PHOENIX — At least Masahiro Tanaka didn’t pull both hamstrings.
Not much else positive happened to Tanaka on Wednesday against the Diamondbacks at Chase Field. Last June in the Subway Series, he suffered two hamstring injuries running the bases against the Mets.
Tanaka batted once and grounded out in this interleague matchup, but lasted just four innings in the Diamondbacks’ 3-2 win over the Yankees to sweep the two-game series.
In those four innings, Tanaka allowed all three Diamondback runs.
His splitter was better than it was in his three previous starts, but Tanaka was done in by a second-inning slider in the dirt for a run-scoring wild pitch to the No. 8 hitter, and an ill-advised fastball to Ketel Marte in the fourth that was crushed for a 453-foot solo home run beyond the pool in right.
In this age of CSI Baseball, where a replay challenge at second base on the neighborhood play in the fifth inning went against the Yankees, the undermanned club could come up with multiple reasons why it lost, but the bottom line is a better effort from Tanaka would have made a difference.
“He’s still not getting those chases that we are used to seeing,’’ Aaron Boone, who was ejected in the seventh, said of Tanaka and his splitter. “A wild pitch a run scores, the blooper and I thought a mistake pitch choice to Marte to hit the homer. He hasn’t been his best certainly but still made enough pitches to give us a chance.’’
Allowing three runs in four innings is by no means a quality start.
Tanaka surrendered two runs when the bottom of the order got to him in the second and then gave up that loud home run to Marte in the fourth. Trailing 3-0 Boone pinch hit for Tanaka in the fifth.
The second inning was particularly damaging. Tanaka surrendered a leadoff single to Christian Walker, then an opposite-field double to Marte to put runners on second and third. The next three hitters were light-hitting shortstop Nick Ahmed, backup catcher Caleb Joseph, who owns a .176 average, and opposing pitcher Merrill Kelly.
It should have been no problem, but Ahmed lifted a high pitch for an RBI single into right-center. Then against Joseph, Tanaka uncorked a wild pitch on a spiked slider and catcher Gary Sanchez could not bail him out, allowing the second run to cross.
“It’s frustrating, they strung some hits together, and scored some runs,’’ Tanaka said through an interpreter. “But as far as like the movement of the pitches, the location of it, I think it wasn’t as bad as it was.’’
OK, but there was nothing there.
The loss dropped Tanaka’s record to 2-3 and raised his ERA to 3.92. With a patchwork lineup, the Yankees needed a stronger effort.
The 17-13 club has faced two teams that currently own plus-.500 records — the Astros and Diamondbacks — and have lost all five games to them.
Tanaka’s two wins have come against two dreadful squads — the Orioles and Royals. He was pitching on extended rest and was the loser in two of the three losses on this 6-3 trip. In his previous outing, he gave up six runs, five earned, in an 11-5 loss to the lowly Angels.
Remember the days when the Yankees talked about Tanaka being an ace. He is more of a survivor.
In his injury-shortened season in 2018 he finished 12-6 with a 3.75 ERA but compiled only 156 innings. This followed a 13-12 season with a 4.74 ERA in 2017. Now he is back under .500 with the softest part of the Yankees schedule behind him.
Boone and the Yankees need more from Tanaka. James Paxton has established himself as the Yankees No. 1 so there is much less pressure on Tanaka but he still cannot deliver.
Marte was all over Tanaka with the second-inning double and fourth-inning home run, the sixth home run Tanaka has allowed this season. Two years ago he gave up 35. Last year it was 25. This 91-mph fastball was belt high and Marte made Tanaka pay for that mistake in execution and choice. One too many mistakes in only four innings of work.
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