New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka’s Rough Start

Apr 2, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) reacts in the dugout after he was taken out of the inning during the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2017; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees starting pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (19) reacts in the dugout after he was taken out of the inning during the third inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

New York Yankees Opening Day starter, Masahiro Tanaka, struggled on Opening Day against the Tampa Bay Rays.

From the dugout, Masahiro Tanaka had a blank stare on his face. Joe Girardi had just pulled his 28-year-old Opening Day starter after 2.2 innings with the New York Yankees already trailing 7-2 to the Tampa Bay Rays.

It’s not the start Tanaka, Girardi, the Yankees, or anyone in baseball could have imagined. The first game of the MLB season was supposed to be a pitching duel between Tanaka and Chris Archer. Instead, Tanaka didn’t even last three innings.

Tanaka has been one of the most consistent starters over the past three seasons, compiling a career 3.12 ERA over 75 starts and finishing seventh in CY Young voting a season ago. You would have never been able to tell today, though.

In 2.2 innings, Tanaka allowed a career-high seven earned runs on eight hits, two walks, and two home runs. It gives him a 23.63 ERA to start the season, one that can seemingly only go down. It’s a start that one might expect from Scott Feldman of the Philadelphia Phillies, but not Tanaka.

It marks the shortest Opening Day start for a Yankees pitcher since 1983, and the first Yankees’ starter since 1973 to give up seven or more runs on Opening Day.

It’s more than just his three fantastic seasons with the Yankees that makes this so surprising, though. Everything about Tanaka’s start was uncharacteristic.

Along with giving up a career-high amount of earned runs, the only shorter start in Tanaka’s career came on September 27, 2014, when he allowed five earned runs in 1.2 innings against the Boston Red Sox. He also only allowed eight or more hits four times in 31 starts last season, and 10 or more base runners three times.

Then in Spring Training, Tanaka looked poised for a breakout season. Tanaka only allowed one earned run in 23.2 innings while striking out 28 batters. His 0.38 ERA and 1.18 K/9, which is significantly higher than his career 0.91 K/9, had people wondering if he could take the next step this season and contend for the CY Young.

Sure, it was only Spring Training, but holding major league hitters to a .115 batting average in any setting is impressive.

No one expected him to have that great of a start to 2017, but no one expected him to fall flat on his face, either, especially not against the Rays.

He has only made more starts against the Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, 10 each, than his eight career starts against Tampa Bay, with three of them coming at Tropicana Field. Therefore, he knows the lineup and field, even if they added new astroturf.

In the past, Tanaka has looked even better than normal against the Rays. Coming into the game, Tanaka had a 2.82 ERA and 0.810 WHIP over 54.1 innings. He also struck out 54 batters compared to just four walks, while the Rays only hit .204/.222/.413 against him.

He has pitched even better in Tampa Bay. Tanaka owned a 1.80 ERA and 0.650 WHIP over three starts and 20 innings at Tropicana Field. While striking out 17 batters to just two walks is impressive, also keep in mind batters only hit .157/.181/.371 in 70 at-bats.

On Sunday afternoon, the Rays batting average and on-base percentage more than tripled against Tanaka. They went 8-for-16 for a .500 batting average and .556 on-base percentage. That’s a remarkable start for a team that ranked 24th in runs, 28th in batting average and 27th in on-base percentage in 2016.

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The fact that Tampa Bay jumped on Tanaka early is arguably the most surprising part. After a delay to start the game, Archer, who also had a Gary Sanchez come backer hit off his leg, should have been the one to struggle early. Archer allowed a base runner but left the first inning with a shutout intact.

Tanaka, who only allowed four first inning runs in 2016 over his 31 starts, allowed three on Sunday.

Despite the 3.07 ERA in 2016 and his numerous good starts against Tampa Bay in the past, maybe Tanaka simply isn’t a good Opening Day starter. Maybe the extra adrenaline or pressure to help his team get off to a fast start gets to him. It’s possible that we still don’t know how Tanaka handles pressure, considering his only playoff start happened three years ago in his rookie season.

Either way, Tanaka hasn’t been great on Opening Day in the past. He’s still been respectable, but he owns a 5.59 ERA, giving up six earned runs in 9.2 innings. That’s not what’s expected from a player who the Yankees will potentially pay $89 million over the next four seasons.

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It’s only one start in a 162-game season. This one poor start is nothing to panic about — it’s more surprising than anything since we all expected a pitcher’s duel. Tanaka is a veteran who should bounce back in his next start and eventually get his ERA back down to his normal 3.12 ERA.