Yankees: Whatever it was Tanaka had lost, he’s found it again

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 03: Masahiro Tanaka Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 03: Masahiro Tanaka Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images) /

Yankees starter, Masahiro Tanaka, for the first time this season spun off his third consecutive quality outing, propelling his team to a win over the Blue Jays to keep pace with the Red Sox. Mysteriously, whatever he had lost has been found.

The Yankees starting pitching, as we know, has been anything but consistent this season. Jordan Montgomery had an outstanding month in June, and CC Sabathia headed up the rotation in the early part of the season until he went down with a hamstring injury.

But the main cog in the wheel has been MIA. And the trouble has been that no one, including Tanaka himself, could figure out why a pitcher who almost won the Cy Young last season and jetted through Spring Training like he was Cy Young, could suddenly “lose it.”

The Yankees made sure to check all of the boxes, including the main one which was that he was injured and hiding it from the team as a matter of pride.

David Cone explains…….

But the one box that no one could check was the need for Tanaka himself to make a few subtle adjustments on his pitches. David Cone hit on some of them last night as Tanaka was in the process of mowing down the Blue Jays.

Cone pointed out that arm angles, spin rates, speed control and pitch selection are all adjustable, sometimes even during a game. Moving, for example, an inch or two left or right on the pitching rubber creates an entirely new view which the hitter must adjust to before you slide back the other way causing the batter to make yet another adjustment.

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Cone, who by the way should be the Yankees choice as their next pitching coach when they finally push Larry Rothschild aside this winter, didn’t stop there as he went on to talk about velocity.

First, he pointed out the obvious, which is that a pitch thrown at 100mph to a major league hitter is more apt to come back at you at 118mph, as Aaron Judge likes to do if the ball has no movement.

Tanaka can hit 95-96 consistently if he wants to, but his 91-92mph two and four-seamers are more effective if he can generate more spin on the ball, which, in turn, creates the movement that thwarts the batter. Especially, when he can follow that up with his splitter which has always been unhittable.

Verlander on Yankees radar – Yes!

As Joe Girardi has said many times, “This game is not easy.” What happened with Tanaka, and hopefully it’s over, is the same thing that happens with pitchers all the time. Look, for instance, at the up and down season and recent career Justin Verlander is having with the Tigers.

DETROIT, MI – JUNE 27: Justin Verlander (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images) /

Here’s a guy who two years ago hit bottom after nine consecutive winning seasons, struggling to a 5-8 record in 2015, only to come back last season to lead the majors in strikeouts (254) and WHIP (1.001) while winning sixteen and losing only nine.

Is that magic? Of course not. At the age of 34, Verlander made a series of adjustments similar to the ones Tanaka has had to make and was able to recover the winning touch once again.

Now, Verlander finds himself swimming in the same puddle (5-5 with a bloated 4.96 ERA) again in 2017 that is causing the same “He’s finished” talk we heard two years ago. Verlander, like Tanaka, will figure it out, make the adjustments again and go on to reclaiming his status as one of the premier starters in the league again.

Which brings us to an interesting juncture. If, as it’s being said, the Tigers move into a sell mode, Verlander should be high on the Yankees radar as a valuable piece to buy.

I know, I know. He’s 34, and he represents a move back to the old Yankees, and he costs a fortune in salary. Yup, that’s right. But he also represents stability in a rotation that sorely needs it. And he’s not going to throw 100 pitches and be finished after five innings.

To make a deal work, the Tigers would first need to decide between picking up a good chunk of his future salary (almost $80 million through 2020) in return for top prospects or to settle for much less on the prospects in exchange for divesting themselves from Verlander’s financial liability.

The Yankees could go either way, but with Hal in charge and not the Boss they would most likely not want to pick up the full tab for Verlander’s services.

No matter, the Yankees have always done better with a veteran staff that doesn’t require much attention, and they seem to have an ongoing problem with developing young pitchers like Michael Pineda and Luis Severino to their full potential. They do better when they have a guy like Montgomery who seems capable of teaching himself or taking a tip and running with it on his own.

Verlander returns the Yankees to the level of having an Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, or even the man himself, David Cone, in their rotation as a true stopper and a thinking man’s pitcher.

Sabathia comes back tonight, and that’s a plus. But the rotation as a whole is still the biggest issue facing the Yankees. One way or another, they’re going to need to fix it if contention for the playoffs is still in their picture.