Perhaps Masahiro Tanaka is his own worst enemy.
Tanaka is in the midst of the worst pitching slump of his life. Over his last four starts, he is 0-4 with an 11.21 ERA — and that includes 7 ¹/₃ innings of one-run ball when he struck out 13 Athletics. Opposing hitters are batting .366 against him over that span with a 1.184 OPS. On balls put in play, they are batting .440.
Tanaka has allowed more earned runs this season (43) than any other pitcher in baseball.
Forget about being an ace. Those numbers get you booted from a rotation, if you aren’t being paid $155 million.
The Yankees and Tanaka insist everything is fine with his right arm as he readies to make a huge start against the second-place Red Sox on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium to kick off a key homestand for the first-place Yankees.
All kinds of ideas have been thrown out there regarding Tanaka’s ineffectiveness, everything from his over-chronicled elbow issues to the fact that he needs Austin Romine to catch him and not Gary Sanchez.
This is not about having a personal catcher, this is about taking personal responsibility on each pitch.
Tanaka needs to get back to his slider-split basics, a combination that has worked for him so well in the past. Just check out that start against the Red Sox on April 27, when he threw a complete-game, three-hit shutout.
During this run of futility, Tanaka came up the hard-luck loser to the A’s when he allowed only one run over 7¹/₃ innings while striking out a career-high 13 and not walking a batter. The A’s, though, are the classic “strikeouts don’t matter team’’ and kept swinging at Tanaka’s pitches low in the zone or in the dirt.
If you show some plate discipline against Tanaka, often he will make a mistake with his fastball or some other pitch, and that’s what happened when he was hammered by the Orioles in his last start, surrendering nine hits and seven runs over 5²/₃ innings.
Which brings us back to pitch selection and a more common-sense approach on the mound. If something is working, stick with it. If the slider-split combo is strong, don’t go to Plan B or Plan C.
“There are times,’’ one scout who has followed Tanaka closely told The Post on Monday, “when he gets a bit too creative. Sometimes he mixes it up too much.’’
In this over-analytical age of baseball, Tanaka is not the only pitcher who does this. Pitchers too often think they have to surprise the hitter with a pitch he is not expecting when the reality is that a well-located pitch, even if the batter is expecting it, will get the job done.
“I think he needs to just worry about one thing and that is the pitch at hand,” pitching coach Larry Rothschild said of Tanaka’s approach against the Red Sox. “Take the focus off all the other stuff and just make pitches.’’
Certainly, Tanaka has the ability to make pitches — if he is healthy enough.
He’s been pitching with that small UCL tear in his right arm for quite some time now, but Tanaka has never leaned on that as an excuse. He does all his work between starts and the other day in Toronto he put on an impressive show of long toss before the game.
Perhaps he cannot put that little extra on his splitter, which used to be referred to as a “wipeout splitter’’ on a more regular basis or perhaps the opt-out caluse in his contract is in the back of his head every start and that has an effect on him.
Complete-game shutouts don’t just happen, though. The same goes for 13-strikeout performances — even if it is against the A’s. Masahiro Tanaka has been brilliant at times this season while other times he has been dreadful. Overall, he posts a 5-5 record with an ugly 6.34 ERA. That has to be terribly embarrassing to him.
Tuesday night against the Red Sox, Tanaka needs to flip the switch and pitch to the moment. Mix it up, but not too much.