Masahiro Tanaka to a seven-year $155 million contract in addition to spending $20 million for the posting fee, the talk around baseball was of course how his talent would translate to playing in the major leagues. Four starts into his MLB career and the talk could soon turn to whether he can be one of the best transports from Japan to ever take the mound.
Tanaka passed yet another test Tuesday night working 7.1 innings of two-run ball in the Yankees 9-3 victory over the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Tanaka calmly brushed off back-to-back home runs to David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, and was otherwise stingy and displayed his filthy splitter to baffle hitters throughout the lineup.
Across 29.1 innings (yes an extremely small sample size) Tanaka has delivered as advertised. He’ll likely have mishaps along the way in his inaugural MLB season, but there is one thing that should make Yankees fans particularly happy and that is Tanaka’s ability to shake off a bad inning or stretch of batters.
We’ve seen the one kink in Tanaka’s armor and that is a tendency to leave his sinker up. The home runs to Ortiz and Napoli were both on sinkers that stayed up in the zone. Surely Tanaka was not pleased with the homers, but he buckled down and didn’t allow another run the rest of the way while his offense pounded Red Sox starter Jon Lester into submission. When watching him on the mound you can almost see he’s working through each step in his mind.
"I try to tell myself, 'I gave up those runs but no more,'" Tanaka said through an interpreter via MLB.com. "And then just go ahead."
Tanaka’s behavior after allowing runs has pleased manager Joe Girardi thus far.
"I think that's a really good quality for such a young pitcher," Girardi said. "Sometimes we forget that he's only 25 years old. To be able to do that, we've seen him do it in really every start that he's had; three of the four."
The argument that hitters will adjust to Tanaka is a fair one, but he seems to be the type of pitcher who will not utilize the same exact game plan each time he faces a team. His expansive repertoire should allow him to handle batters differently time and again.
Tanaka has shown an ability to dominate thus far exemplified by his 35 strikeouts to just two walks. Tanaka’s physical attributes matched with his workmanlike demeanor on the mound provide him with a solid base with which to pitch.
While the four starts are not enough to make a sound judgment on his future, it is certainly enough to suggest that he has the potential to be a star in this league. The journey will have some blips, but Tanaka looks to be the type of pitcher who can put them in the rearview mirror and come back strong next time around.
Christopher Carelli is a freelance sports writer/editor and the Director of Content Strategy for Sportsideo.