Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Starting Pitcher

Masahiro Tanaka



Status: Active
Position: Starting Pitcher
Bats/Throw: Right/Right
How Acquired: Free Agent, 2014
Contract: 7 years, $155 million (2014-2020, opt out after 2017)
Awards: None
World Series Championships: None
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Pitching plans show the Yankees wisely have their eyes on the big picture

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Last night, Michael Pineda turned in arguably his best start of the season, which is pretty impressive when you consider he struck out 16 batters in a game last month. Big Mike carved through the Marlins with his mid-90s electricutter and the best slider command he’s had since the 16-strikeout game. It was Pineda at his best. Overwhelming dominance.

Five days ago Pineda suffered through arguably his worst start of the season by allowing six runs on nine hits in only 4.1 innings against the Orioles, the same Orioles he struck out 16 times a few weeks ago. His slider wasn’t behaving and his location was terrible, hence all the damage. Perhaps not coincidentally, last night’s start came on normal rest while the start in Baltimore came on eleven days rest.

“There’s days he hasn’t had his slider and he’s been on regular rest. So there is no answer to this, as much as you guys want one. There is no exact science,” said Joe Girardi to Ryan Hatch last night when asked about Pineda dominating on normal rest and struggling with extra rest.”These guys are creatures of habit, but sometimes you have to make adjustments. You have off days that you have to adjust to.”

The Yankees didn’t skip Pineda’s start two weeks ago for the heck of it. They did it because they’re trying to keep him healthy, and because he threw 124.2 total innings from 2012-14 following major shoulder surgery. Pineda has already thrown more big league innings this season (81.1) than he did last season (76.1) and we’re only halfway through June. Again: major shoulder surgery in the not too distant past!

Pineda is not the only pitcher who is having his workload monitored. Masahiro Tanaka‘s next start has been pushed back to give him an extra day of rest, something the team is trying to do as much as possible this year. They aren’t so concerned about his exact innings total, they’re just playing it safe with the partial ligament tear in his elbow. Adam Warren, a reliever turned starter who is two starts away from exceeding last year’s innings total, has also had some starts pushed back in recent weeks.

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are clearly looking at the big picture here and are willing to lose the battle (Pineda vs. the Orioles) to win the war (Pineda the rest of the season) with their rotation. Having Pineda, Tanaka, Warren, and whoever else around and not just healthy, but productive as well in the second half is far more important than one or two starts right now, before the halfway point of the season. Skipping that start seems to have resulted in a poor outing for Pineda against the O’s. The hope is it will lead to an effective Pineda in September and October.

The workload manipulation is only going to continue these next few weeks, so it would be nice if Pineda figured out how to remain effective in starts with extra rest. That’s an adjustment he has to make. The Yankees may use a six-man rotation when Ivan Nova returns and they figure to insert a spot sixth starter several times down the stretch — they were prepared to start Bryan Mitchell this Saturday until Nathan Eovaldi‘s short start on Tuesday, allowing him to come back on short rest. My guess is Mitchell will still end up taking a few rotation turns later this year.

There is definitely a time and a place for focusing on the here and now, especially with the AL East so tight. The Yankees aren’t at that place right now. There is still 60% of the season to be played and they have to be cognizant of their starters’ physical limitations and do their best to keep everyone healthy and sharp all season. If that means sacrificing some starts now a la Pineda against the Orioles, then so be it. The big picture is far too important right now.

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Game 65: Back Home with Big Mike

BIG MIKE IS HERE

The Yankees just wrapped up a five-game road trip through Baltimore and Miami and it was: bad. One win, four losses, 15 runs scored, 37 runs allowed. Egads. Thankfully the Yankees return home tonight to start a stretch where 20 of their next 30 games are at home. They’re 16-11 with a +24 run differential at home compared to 18-19 with a -12 run differential on the road. This team is built for Yankee Stadium.

Michael Pineda is on the mound tonight and you know what? Big Mike has kinda stunk of late. He’s got a 5.40 ERA in five starts since his 16-strikeout game, and opponents are hitting .325/.354/.520 against him during that time. That’s really bad! Tonight would be a fine night for Pineda to shake off these last five starts, pitch like the ace we all know he can be, and help the Yankees get back into the win column. Here is the Marlins’ lineup and here is the Yankees’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. C Brian McCann
  4. DH Alex Rodriguez
  5. 1B Garrett Jones
  6. RF Carlos Beltran
  7. SS Didi Gregorius
  8. 2B Stephen Drew
  9. CF Mason Williams
    RHP Michael Pineda

It has been cloudy and on the cool side in New York today, but there is no rain in the forecast, so that’s good. This evening’s game will begin a little after 7pm ET and can be seen on YES. Try to enjoy.

Rotation Update: Masahiro Tanaka will start Sunday with an extra day of rest rather than Saturday, Joe Girardi announced. No word on who will start Saturday, but I wonder if they will start Nathan Eovaldi on three days’ rest since he threw only 36 pitches last night. Bryan Mitchell is also on turn to start that day as well, so the Yankees have options.

Roster Move: As expected, the Yankees brought in a fresh arm following last night’s bullpen marathon. Lefty Jose DePaula was called up from Triple-A Scranton and Jose Ramirez was sent down, the team announced. DePaula was already on the 40-man roster, so no other moves were necessary. He was on turn to start for the RailRiders today and can go many innings if necessary. I hope they aren’t.

Yankees designate David Carpenter for assignment

So long, Carp. (Presswire)
So long, Carp. (Presswire)

The Yankees have designated David Carpenter for assignment, the team announced. The move clears a spot on the 25-man roster for Masahiro Tanaka, who was activated off the 15-day DL and will start today’s series finale with the Mariners. The Yankees now have one open 40-man roster spot, but will need it when either Brendan Ryan or Ivan Nova eventually come off the 60-day DL.

Carpenter, 29, had a 4.82 ERA (5.31 FIP) in 18.2 innings and has been untrustworthy pretty much all season. His strikeout rate has also dropped from 25.9% last year with the Braves to 13.4% this year. Joe Girardi gave Carpenter plenty of chances to work through his problems recently — he’s appeared in nine of the last 17 games — but it’s not working. He gave up the go-ahead run in the sixth inning last night, which may have been the final straw.

The Yankees acquired Carpenter along with Chasen Shreve in the Manny Banuelos trade this past offseason. Carpenter is out of minor league options, which is why the Yankees couldn’t simply send him to Triple-A to work on things. They now have ten days to trade, release, or waive him, and my guess is they will be able to work out a minor trade with some team. Carpenter will probably go somewhere else and have a 2.00 ERA the rest of the year. Relievers are weird like that.

With Carpenter gone, the Yankees now have five lefties in the bullpen: Andrew Miller, Justin Wilson, Jacob Lindgren, Chris Capuano, and Shreve. Dellin Betances and Esmil Rogers are the only righties. That’s not a big deal though. All five of those lefties can get righties out, if not dominate them. The Yankees could have easily demoted Lindgren, but they opted for the best talent over maintain depth.

Inside the matchup: Tanaka vs. Nelson Cruz

(Elsa/Getty)
(Elsa/Getty)

Welcome back to the rotation, Masahiro Tanaka. Congratulations, your prize is a one-on-one battle with the best power hitter in the American League — Mr. Nelson Cruz of the Seattle Mariners.

The 34-year-old Cruz leads the AL in both homers and slugging percentage, and is showing no mercy when he makes contact. According to data at Baseball Savant, Cruz has the longest homer in the majors this season — a 483-foot moonshot off Wandy Rodriguez on April 29 — and the second-hardest hit ball of any player — a walk-off single against the Rangers on April 19 that left his bat at an exit velocity of 119 mph.

Cruz is one of the most dangerous hitters in the league right now, a threat to crush the ball over the fence or send a screaming line drive to the outfield corner on any pitch, and can change the outcome of a game with one swing of the bat.

The good news for Tanaka is that this won’t be his first time pitching against the Mariners slugger. He faced the Orioles twice last season, saw Cruz a combined six times and retired him in all six plate appearances — three strikeouts, two fly outs and one ground out.

Let’s go inside the matchup to see how Tanaka was able to neutralize Cruz last season, and try to figure out how he should approach him during this afternoon’s game. [Sure, these are all super-small sample sizes, but let’s have some fun instead of worrying about the health of Tanaka’s arm.]

Tanaka did a good job of keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate, peppering the bottom outside corner with sliders, while mixing in a handful of high fastballs and a few sinkers in on the hands of Cruz.

cruz vs tanaka

The down-and-away slider was Tanaka’s key put-away pitch in the matchup, netting him four of the six outs against Cruz, including all three strikeouts on pitches at or below the knees.

That strategy was a bit unusual for Tanaka last year, who was more likely to go to his splitter in two-strike counts against righties (39 percent of the time) than his slider (31 percent). However, it was a smart game plan against Cruz, who last year really struggled with sliders from same-sided pitchers. He whiffed on nearly half of his swings against sliders and struck out a whopping 42 times on the pitch (second-most in the AL).

Another interesting trend is that Tanaka wasn’t afraid to “pitch backwards,” throwing his offspeed pitches early and often in the count. He started three of the six at-bats with sliders and kept Cruz off-balance by throwing him more off-speed pitches (11) than fastballs (9) in the six at-bats.

Tanaka is one of four pitchers that has faced Cruz at least six times since the start of last season and gotten him out every time. Can he shut down one of the game’s best sluggers again this year?

Like many power hitters, Cruz’s sweetspot is on the middle-to-inner third of the zone and off the inside corner of the plate, where he’s hit 14 of his 18 homers this season. Hey Tanaka, try to avoid that area, please:

cruz hrs

If Tanaka can get into a favorable count, throwing him a slider down and away — similar to last year — is probably a good idea. Cruz has whiffed on nearly 40 percent of his swings against sliders from right-handed pitchers this year, and he’s done little damage when making contact. He’s hit just one homer off a slider from a righty and more than half of those pitches that he’s put in play have been grounders. Tanaka’s slider had been nasty in his last two starts, getting whiffs on 56 percent of the swings against the pitch, including three strikeouts.

When Tanaka wants to throw a fastball in this matchup, he’d be smart to go to his four-seamer instead of his sinker. Cruz is slugging roughly 300 points higher against sinkers (.778) than four-seam fastballs (.471) from right-handers this year, and he’s twice as likely to whiff against a four-seamer than a sinker from a righty.

That pitch selection should favor Tanaka, who has decreased his sinker usage since his first two starts (when it got crushed), and starting throwing more four-seamers in his last two starts (with good results). Overall, Tanaka’s four-seamer has been a much better fastball option for him than his sinker this season:

Tanaka stats v2

That’s right, Tanaka has thrown 73 four-seam fastballs in 2015 and the only player to get a hit off the pitch was Russell Martin with a single in the season opener. It’s been an nice pitch for him so far, and Tanaka should feel comfortable challenging Cruz with well-located four-seamers this afternoon.

Tanaka vs. Cruz will be among the most anticipated matchups of the game, and could easily be one of the most pivotal, too. If Tanaka can use his four-seamer and slider effectively, and follow a similar game plan as he’s done in the past against Cruz, there is a good chance he’ll be able to win the battle with the Mariners slugger once again.

Poll: Fitting Masahiro Tanaka back onto the roster

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

Tomorrow afternoon the Yankees will welcome arguably their best pitcher and inarguably one of their most important players back from the DL, as Masahiro Tanaka returns to the rotation after missing a month with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain. Tanaka will be limited to 80 pitches after making just two Triple-A rehab starts, but, at this point, 80 pitches from Tanaka is preferable to none. That goes without saying.

Joe Girardi has already said Chris Capuano will move into the bullpen to make room for Tanaka in the rotation, which isn’t surprising. Adam Warren has been too good his last four starts to remove him from the rotation. They owe it to themselves to see if he can be a cheap, reliable starter going forward. The Yankees do still have to fit Tanaka on the 25-man roster, and there are several ways they can do that. They have two candidates to bump down to Triple-A and three candidates they could drop from the roster all together. Here’s a quick overview of said options.

Option No. 1: Demote Lindgren

These are presented in no particular order, but this seems like a natural place to start since Jacob Lindgren is the low man on the pitching staff totem pole. He’s been in the big leagues for about a week now and has allowed six of 15 batters faced to reach base (.400 OBP). Lindgren may be the team’s top bullpen prospect, but bullpen prospects usually have to wow in order to stick around. Had Lindgren dominated those first 15 batters, the decision to send him around would be much tougher. For now, he’s the low man in terms of service time and that guy tends to get demoted whenever a spot is needed.

Option No. 2: Demote Shreve

Shreve has arguably been the team’s third best reliever this season, pitching to a 2.49 ERA (3.14 FIP) in 21.2 innings. He’s struck out 23 of 84 batters faced (27.4%), and heading into last night’s game he’d held right-handed batters to a .162/.212/.286 batting line thanks to his splitter. Shreve is no lefty specialist. The Yankees would be crazy to send him down, except they did it once already this year, when they needed a fresh arm in April. (Of course Shreve had not yet shown he was a bullpen weapon at that point.) Shreve is too valuable to send to Triple-A, even temporarily, but he has options and doesn’t have the prospect pedigree of Lindgren, which could work against him.

Option No. 3: Designate Carpenter

(Al Bello/Getty)
(Al Bello/Getty)

We’re now almost one-third of the way through the 2015 season, and thus far David Carpenter has a 4.91 ERA (5.33 FIP) in 18.1 innings. Girardi has been using Carpenter often in an effort to get him back on track — he’s appeared in eight of the team’s last 16 games — but it just hasn’t happened. On one hand, Carpenter has been the team’s least effective middle reliever. On the other, he was pretty damn good with the Braves the last two years (2.63 ERA and 2.88 FIP) and is under team control through 2017 as an arbitration-eligible player, and you’d hate to give that up after only 18.1 bad innings. Then again, what good are those years of control if he stinks? This is a player who’s in his sixth organization already. If nothing else, Carpenter has pitched his way into fringe roster territory and any discussion about designating him for assignment isn’t undeserved. (Carpenter is out of minor league options and can’t go to Triple-A without passing through waivers, and even though he’s been bad this year, he’d get claimed in a heartbeat.)

Option No. 4: Designate Rogers

The Yankees very clearly like something about his Esmil Rogers — to his credit, he does have good stuff and his arm seems resilient — and he started the season well, allowing just four earned runs in his first 16.1 innings. He’s since allowed 13 earned runs in his last 14.2 innings, so his ERA (4.94) and FIP (4.77) suddenly resemble his 2012-14 marks (4.91 and 4.35, respectively). Every team needs a long man and Esmil usually isn’t deciding games, he’s just mopping them up, but the Yankees have some other long man options who could be better, include Capuano.

Option No. 5: Designate Capuano

Capuano has pitched to a 6.39 ERA (4.20 FIP) in three starts since coming back from his quad injury and he does have experience in a relief role, but cutting ties with Capuano all together is possible if the Yankees think he’s done. They already have four lefties in the bullpen and might not want to add another. Then again, Capuano can start, and rotation depth probably isn’t something the Yankees should be giving away at this point. Plus his $5M salary could be factor. Everyone else in this post is making peanuts. Money has a way of buying extra time on the roster.

* * *

It goes without saying that Warren, Michael Pineda, CC Sabathia, Nathan Eovaldi, Andrew Miller, and Dellin Betances are locked into their roster spots, and I think the Justin Wilson is more safe than not as well. Those other five pitching staff slots are not as safe and any one of the five could wind up going to make room for Tanaka. Lindgren or Shreve could find themselves in Triple-A or one of Rogers, Carpenter, or Capuano could find themselves out of the organization entirely. What’s the best way to get Tanaka back onto the roster?

How should the Yankees clear a roster spot for Tanaka?

Tanaka joining Yankees out west, expected to return to rotation next week

(Scranton Times-Tribune)
(Scranton Times-Tribune)

Earlier today, Joe Girardi told reporters Masahiro Tanaka is flying west today to meet the Yankees in California, and he is expected to return to the rotation early next week. “In a perfect world he would start sometime in Seattle,” said Girardi, referring to the team’s three-game series with the Mariners from Monday through Wednesday.

Tanaka, 26, has been out exactly one month now with wrist tendinitis and a minor forearm strain. He’s made two Triple-A rehab starts — one good, one not so good — and was able to get his pitch count up to 62 yesterday, in his second start. Girardi said Tanaka will be limited to 80 pitches in his return next week.

First off all, hooray Tanaka! The Yankees have played it very safe with their ace and they’ve insisted the injury was minor the entire time. Tanaka was reportedly upset at being placed on the DL too. There’s no reason to think they’re rushing him back or that they’re being too aggressive. He’s healthy. He’s just not stretched out.

Secondly, I’m interested to see how they get Tanaka on the roster. Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia will start Monday and Tuesday, and they’re not coming out of the rotation, but Chris Capuano is starting Wednesday and the Yankees are off Thursday. Will Tanaka replace Capuano in the rotation? Or just push him back?

As far as the 25-man roster spot, the easy move would be sending Jacob Lindgren back to Triple-A, but I hope that doesn’t happen. Chasen Shreve could (undeservingly) get sent out, or Esmil Rogers or David Carpenter could be cut loose with Capuano or Adam Warren sliding into the bullpen. Intrigue! We’ll find out soon enough.

Game 44: Bernie Williams Day

(AP Photo/Doug Mills)
(AP Photo/Doug Mills)

Prior to tonight’s series finale with the Rangers, the Yankees will honor and retire No. 51 for Bernie Williams with an on-field ceremony. I guess that makes it Bernie Williams night, not day. Whatever. Either way, this is a long time coming. Williams hasn’t played since 2006, but it wasn’t until last month that he officially signed his retirement papers.

Bernie was an integral part of the team’s most recent dynasty, though he often doesn’t get enough respect simply because Core Five doesn’t sound as cool as Core Four. He was as much a part of those late-1990s teams as Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Paul O’Neill, Tino Martinez, David Cone … anyone. In fact, Bernie was a Yankee long before all those guys, having been called up in 1991.

According to the Yankees, Jeter, Posada, O’Neill, Rivera, Tino, Cone, Willie Randolph, and Joe Torre will be among those in attendance for tonight’s ceremony, which is scheduled to start right around 7pm ET. You’ll be able to watch the entire thing on YES. I’m not sure if it’ll be broadcast online anywhere though.

Following the ceremony, the Yankees will wrap up their ugly series with Texas and try to avoid getting swept for the second straight series. If you’re looking for some good news, I can offer this: the Yankees are 3-0 and have outscored their opponents 28-13 in Sunday night games this year. Here is the Rangers’ lineup and here is the Yanks’ lineup:

  1. LF Brett Gardner
  2. 3B Chase Headley
  3. DH Alex Rodriguez
  4. 1B Mark Teixeira
  5. C Brian McCann
  6. RF Garrett Jones
  7. CF Chris Young
  8. SS Didi Gregorius
  9. 2B Jose Pirela
    LHP Chris Capuano

It’s a nice day in New York, a little cloudy but warm. Weather will be fine tonight. Tonight’s game will begin at 8pm ET and you catch watch on ESPN. Enjoy the Bernie ceremony and the game.

Roster Move: As expected, the Yankees have called up Jacob Lindgren from Triple-A. Branden Pinder was send down to clear a 25-man roster spot and Brendan Ryan (calf, hamstring) was transferred to the 60-day DL to clear a 40-man roster spot. Ryan’s already been on the DL for 50 days and isn’t close to returning, so the move to the 60-day doesn’t really change anything.

Injury Update: Masahiro Tanaka (wrist, forearm) threw a 31-pitch bullpen session this afternoon and felt great. He’s scheduled to make his second Triple-A rehab start on Wednesday … Carlos Beltran is out of the lineup with flu-like symptoms and could miss more than just today.