Masahiro Tanaka pitches New York Yankees to win over Toronto Blue Jays

By Larry Fleisher, The Sports Xchange  |  July 4, 2017 at 1:05 AM
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NEW YORK -- When it was not going well for Masahiro Tanaka, the lament was a certain pitch or pitches were not working effectively.

Now it appears most pitches coming out of Tanaka's right hand are succeeding.

It was apparent Monday night when Tanaka pitched seven solid innings as the New York Yankees added four crucial insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth inning and held on for a 6-3 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

"Without going into too much details, it's just being able to make the right adjustments," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I feel a little bit better on the mound."

Tanaka (7-7) won his second straight start by allowing one run and five hits. He struck out eight, walked one and threw 111 pitches as the Yankees (44-37) closed out the first half with their sixth win in 20 games.

"His four pitches were good," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It's the difference. His four pitches, he's using them all. They've all been good and they've all gotten outs for him."

Tanaka's latest outing gave him a 2-0 record and a 1.29 ERA in his last three outings, which leads Girardi to believe his ace might be hitting a groove after watching him throw first-pitch strikes to the first eight hitters and to 21 of 27 hitters overall.

"When you put three of them together that are very similar where his stuff is outstanding, you feel a lot better about where he's at," Girardi said. "We said a lot of times when he was struggling, he didn't have his slider, he didn't have his split, and some days he didn't have both. But he's had them all and he's had his curveball, which he used effectively as well and it just makes a huge difference."

Tanaka pitched with a 2-0 lead most of the night after Chase Headley was hit by a pitch and Jacoby Ellsbury walked with the bases loaded in the first inning against Marcus Stroman (8-5).

After getting the lead, Tanaka recorded key outs all night.

Justin Smoak opened the fourth with a double off the left-field wall but stayed at second base as the inning ended with Ezequiel Carrera striking out. An inning earlier, Tanaka stranded Jose Bautista at first when Josh Donaldson grounded out.

In the fifth, Tanaka stranded Luke Maile at third by striking out Bautista on three straight pitches.

The Blue Jays ended Tanaka's shutout bid when Darwin Barney lifted a single to left after a throwing error by Gary Sanchez allowed Carrera to take third following a stolen base. Tanaka finished it by cleanly fielding two grounders.

"He's coming out of it, you can tell," Toronto left fielder Steve Pearce said.

After Tanaka's outing ended, the last final two innings were slightly stressful for the Yankees.

Dellin Betances pitched a scoreless eighth by striking out Bautista and Smoak on 99 mph full-count fastballs. Smoak struck out as catcher Sanchez made a perfect throw to nab Donaldson trying to steal second.

Aroldis Chapman allowed a run-scoring double to Kevin Pillar and an RBI single to Barney. He also threw a wild pitch but retired pinch-hitters Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin with the tying run on deck.

Chapman's appearance occurred after the Yankees added four in the eighth against Ryan Tepera.

Headley made it 4-1 with a two-run double. New York scored its final two runs when Didi Gregorius and Headley scored on a soft grounder to the mound as catcher Maile dropped the throw from Tepera.

The eighth was the latest event in a frustrating two weeks for the Blue Jays, who lost their fifth straight and fell to 2-9 in their last 11 games.

It also occurred after Stroman exited with a blister on his right hand. He allowed two runs and five hits in five innings.

"It's crazy," Stroman said. "It's extremely frustrating. I feel like it's an epidemic that's happening across the big leagues now."

NOTES: Toronto manager John Gibbons said C Miguel Montero will join the team in time for Tuesday afternoon's game. ... Yankees GM Brian Cashman said "exploratory surgery" is possible for Greg Bird (bruised right ankle) if he still experiences pain. ... Toronto RHP Aaron Sanchez (blister) pitched 4 1/3 innings in a rehab start for Triple-A Buffalo on Sunday and it's possible he could be activated from the disabled list this weekend. ... New York LHP CC Sabathia (strained left hamstring) confirmed that he will be activated from the disabled list and pitch Tuesday.

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