It was a month ago, perhaps a little earlier than that, that the New York Yankees were deciding who the fifth and final starter would be to fill out what on the surface appeared to be a pretty strong starting rotation. The multiple candidates–Michael Pineda, David Phelps, Vidal Nuno, and Adam Warren, all earned consideration with strong spring performances. At the end of the day, manager Joe Girardi and Larry Rothschild felt more comfortable inserting Pineda behind C.C. Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, and Masahiro Tanaka. On May 1st, the Yankees are now searching for answers in a world of questions. One man, the most expensive man, the one who was termed “…a number three starter” might be the only sure thing the rest of the way.
If Tanaka isn’t the AL Pitcher of the Month, I’m calling for a recount. While his performances haven’t been without criticism, he has shown the grit, the toughness, the tenacity that should come with a $155 million dollar deal without ever having tossed a big league pitch. He’s given up some shots-his first major league hitter on his third pitch in Toronto. It’s a part of the deal. Tanaka pitches aggressively, and sometimes the hitter is going to get the best of you. There was talk that he as an average pitcher. Ask those who spoke before facing him: Jose Bautista, Adam Jones and the like. We saw the results. Tanaka doesn’t get caught up in the American mentality of trash-talking and showboating. While guys are admiring their work, Tanaka just goes out and does his, as displayed by his 45 Ks in 35 2/3 innings of work. He might be averaging a home run per start, but his ERA is 2.27, and his ERA+ is 186 and he’s averaging just under 12 strikeouts per start. It’s about getting the job done, and through one month of his big league career, that is exactly what Tanaka has done.
What was once considered the team strength, led by a former Cy Young winner who has now lost his velocity and ability to consistently pitch through six innings (Sabathia), a master of deception and control has lost all control (Kuroda), another of the many Tommy John procedures that are now commonplace (Nova), and the embarrassment to the organization who is also hurt (Pineda), Tanaka is now and for the foreseeable future, the ace, the stabilizing force, the example, the beacon of light in an ocean of disaster. Masahiro Tanaka must now lead an unestablished group of secondary Yankees’ hurlers through the next few weeks of the spring.
As Vidal Nuno, David Phelps, and possibly others, take their respective turns trying to replace what was originally a team strength, these youngsters need look no further than the one who says nothing, and does everything for this pitching staff. Worth $155 million dollars? He’s worth every damn penny and the Yankees now know it.