Yankees need Masahiro Tanaka to step up and fill the second spot in the rotation
By Scott Roche
When the Yankees reported to Spring Training nearly three weeks ago, they knew that they’d begin the season without the services of James Paxton who was recovering from back surgery. What they weren’t planning on was losing their number two starter in their rotation as well.
Earlier this week Yankees GM Brian Cashman announced that Luis Severino would miss the 2020 season to undergo Tommy John surgery. He underwent the surgery on Thursday and everything went as planned. With Severino out of the number two spot in the starting rotation, what seemed to be a strength of the team heading into the season has now become somewhat question mark.
Behind ace Gerrit Cole, the Yankees are now going to look to Masahiro Tanaka to take the ball in the No. 2 spot in the rotation. In a contract year, the Yankees need Tanaka to begin the year healthy and pitch more like he did in 2018 than he did a season ago.
After averaging almost 13 wins a year in his first six seasons in the Bronx, Tanaka will look to fill the shoes of Severino and be much more consistent during the regular season. He’s been dominant in the playoffs, but his regular-season numbers in two of the last three seasons haven’t been up to par.
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In 2017 Tanaka went 13-12 with a 4.74 ERA but bounced back nicely in 2018 going 12-6 with an ERA of 3.75. However, he took a bit of a step back a season ago when he went 11-9 with a 4.45 ERA in 31 starts. He struck out 149 batters and only walked 40. He gave up a career-high .261 opponent batting average, but the Yankees still won 103 games.
Behind Tanaka, there are still question marks about the rotation. Cashman held onto left-hander J.A. Happ, who was mentioned as a possible trade chip this offseason, but holding on to him will help to begin the season in the No. 3 spot. Jordan Montgomery will likely slot into the No. 4 spot, while the battle for the No. 5 spot will be worth watching the remainder of Spring Training.
Regardless of who fills out the back-end of the rotation, what the Yankees need is the 31-year-old Tanaka to follow Cole in the No. 2 spot and step up. At least until Paxton makes his return, which will hopefully happen at some point in May. If Tanaka is able to stay healthy and pitch like a true number two, that will only help him this offseason when he hits free agency.