New York Yankees RHP Masahiro Tanaka lost his second straight start on Saturday when he gave up six runs and nine hits in three innings in a 9-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Tanaka (5-3) left the game in the bottom of the fourth inning after five straight batters reached base, including Corey Dickerson, whose second home run of the game gave Tampa Bay a 6-3 lead.
"We have to get him right," manager Joe Girardi said, according to the New York Daily News' Mike Mazzeo. "I thought his slider was better today. I thought his splitter was better at times. But he made some mistakes with his fastball. His stuff was better than his last start, but it's not where we need it to be. And we've got to continue to work on it."
A year after going 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA, Tanaka is just 5-3 with a 6.56 ERA through nine starts this year. In four starts since shutting out the Boston Red Sox on April 27, he is 2-2 with a 10.50 ERA, giving up 22 runs (21 earned) in 18 innings. Only twice has he pitched more than three innings.
While Tanaka's ERA has skyrocketed this season, his other pitching metrics are down. His K/9 rate (7.31) and K/BB rate (2.60) are both career lows. His 1.604 WHIP and 2.4 HR/9 rate are both career highs. Opponents are hitting .310 off him and have a .950 OPS against him.
"We have to get consistency out of his pitches," Girardi said. "I think that's first and foremost. He has to have his consistent splitter and he has to have his consistent slider. If he has those two things, he's going to be successful. It becomes frustrating for a player that's used to having a ton of success when you struggle."
The Yankees need Tanaka to figure things out, and quickly, if they expect to stay at or near the top of the division standings this season.
To say Tanaka's results this season are a surprise would be a severe understatement. Tanaka ranks among the worst starting pitchers in baseball, just one season after being in the hunt for the American League Cy Young award. Moreover, Tanaka's fantastic 2016 season was hardly a fluke as he had been a very good pitcher -- the Yankees' top hurler -- since he arrived in the big leagues.
As to what the issue is with Tanaka, the notion that it has to do with the starting catcher is an interesting one. Tanaka has pitched much better with backup catcher Austin Romine behind the plate (2.51 ERA in four starts) than when starting catcher Gary Sanchez is behind the dish (12.27 ERA, including 10 home runs allowed, in five starts). Personally, I don't see this being the actual problem, but I also don't believe there is harm in trying Tanaka out with Romine in his next start.
Tanaka simply hasn't seemed confident with his stuff other than the shutout he tossed against Boston last month. His lack of control and command has been consistently poor beyond that game, which tells me the catcher behind the dish is either in Tanaka's head, or it's a complete coincidence.