OAKLAND, Calif. — This day brought no questions about what’s next for Masahiro Tanaka. No proposals to solve the greatest mystery in the $155 million man’s professional career.
Part of that comes from the encouraging signs behind the debacle that was the Yankees’ 5-2 loss to the A’s Saturday at Oakland Coliseum, their season-worst fifth straight defeat. Another part, though, derived from a stark reality:
The Yankees have nowhere else to turn. As long as Tanaka is healthy — and everyone continues to stress that’s the case — he simply has to keep going out there with the hope that he’ll right himself.
“It’s something we haven’t seen before,” manager Joe Girardi conceded after the game. “The last three years, he’s been really good at that. He’s been good at self-correcting. For whatever reason, this year, he’s having a hard time doing it. Go back to work.”
Tanaka added through an interpreter: “Obviously, I want to go deeper into the game.”
Girardi turned to Tanaka, on the standard four days’ rest, in the hope he would live up to his unofficial role of stopper that comes with the high salary and the Opening Day assignment. Stop this skid and stop the bullpen’s treadmill run of exhaustion.
The relief corps should be in decent shape for Sunday’s series finale, especially with closer Aroldis Chapman expected to be activated, but that will happen as a result of Domingo German’s four shutout innings of relief work. German earned his keep because Tanaka lasted only four innings, getting knocked around for all five Oakland runs on eight hits, including three solo homers. Matt Joyce ripped Tanaka’s first pitch of the game over the right-field wall, and A’s designated hitter Ryon Healy deposited two to left-center field, one in the second and another in the fourth.
“The three home runs, that’s unacceptable,” Tanaka said.
“Mistakes. [It] really comes down to it,” Girardi said. “Splitter that didn’t do what it was supposed to. Slider that didn’t do what it was supposed to. Both of those to Healy.”
Now, if you want to pull a George Costanza and do the baseball equivalent of explaining how “manure” isn’t such a bad word once you separate the “ma” from the “nure,” then you can point out Tanaka struck out 10 and walked one, a stellar ratio that should result in victories most of the time.
“I felt like I was able to get a couple of good strikeouts, which tells you that there’s some bite to the off-speed stuff,” Tanaka said. “I look at that as a positive from today’s outing.”
Masahiro Tanaka, in the dugout during the fifth inningGetty Images
As well he should. Tanaka has set off some five-alarm fires this season with a pronounced and surprising inability to miss bats. In his last two starts, however, he has totaled 18 strikeouts in 10 ²/₃ innings. So the question shifts some, from ineffectiveness to inconsistency. Girardi referenced Michael Pineda’s past struggles with getting good performances from great peripherals. From everything we know about Tanaka, he should be far more capable than Pineda of fixing such a dilemma.
To balance that improvement in Tanaka’s status, the imperative for him to get better becomes more important because Tanaka is no longer holding back a juggernaut. This time, he failed to release the team from its collective shackles. No. 2 starter CC Sabathia resides on the disabled list with a strained left hamstring, and the lineup stands as less than whole thanks to Aaron Hicks (left Achilles’ heel) getting banged up and Greg Bird (right ankle) shutting down his rehabilitation; Gary Sanchez (abductor muscle) pinch hit Saturday and could start Sunday, Girardi said.
Just to make things more Mets-like, top prospect Gleyber Torres suffered a left elbow injury Saturday while playing for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barres. The Yankees had regarded Torres as a potential in-season “trade” to upgrade third base.
The heat turns up on the Yankees’ titular ace. He must transform from a headache to a cure, or else this feel-good season really will start bringing the pain.