NEW YORK (AP) — Masahiro Tanaka handed the ball to Yankees manager Joe Girardi as fans gave a big ovation, and the usually undemonstrative pitcher tipped his cap three times: once while walking off the mound, again when crossing the foul line and a third time to his teammates as he entered New York’s dugout.
The 28-year-old followed two of his worst big league starts with one of his best.
Tanaka pitched shutout ball into the eighth inning, struck out 13 and walked none in a remarkable turnaround, but he wound up a hard-luck loser when the Oakland Athletics burst ahead against the Yankees’ bullpen in a 4-1 win Friday night.
“I’m somewhat satisfied,” Tanaka said through a translator. “But I think I can’t be too up about this. I had a couple bad starts. Just moving forward I’d like to keep my consistency in my pitches so that I can get the type of results I got today.”
Tanaka left with the score 0-0 after Adam Rosales’ one-out single in the eighth. Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis had run-scoring hits off Tyler Clippard with two outs, and Stephen Vogt added a two-run homer in the ninth against Jonathan Holder.
“Kind of what we’re used to seeing from Masahiro,” Girardi said. “It stayed consistent throughout the night.”
Tanaka (5-4) was booed loudly in his previous home start on May 14, when he was chased by Houston after allowing three homers and eight runs over 1 2/3 innings on Derek Jeter night. He had another poor outing May 20 at Tampa Bay, bringing the two-game damage to 14 runs over 4 2/3 innings.
Pitching coach Larry Rothschild worked with Tanaka between starts, increasing the effort of long toss before the 28-year-old right-hander threw a bullpen session and warmed up on the mound. Tanaka slowed the rise of his left leg in his windup and concentrated on being more direct to the plate; he had been opening up too quickly, accelerated off the rubber too fast and drifted to both sides.
“I just tried to get him back on line and to stay in the lane to the plate,” Rothschild said. “I think he slowed it down a little bit as far as leaving the rubber. He collected before he really got aggressive with the pitch he was about to make.”
Tanaka allowed five hits, threw 76 of 111 pitches for strikes and got 25 swings and misses — his most in the majors. His splitter sunk far more and his slider had a greater biting movement.
Rothschild and Tanaka had reviewed video back to 2014.
“Just look at and try to repeat it without breaking it down piece by piece,” Rothschild recalled telling him.
Tanaka struck out eight of first 11 batters and nine of his opening 15. His return to form not surprisingly took place with Austin Romine behind the plate. Tanaka has a 2.21 ERA when pitching to Romine and a 12.27 ERA to Gary Sanchez, New York’s No. 1 catcher.
“I couldn’t care less about the numbers. All I care about is winning games,” Romine said. “Unfortunately we didn’t get it done tonight, but there is a good outcome from this, is that maybe we can get Masa back on the right foot.”
Sanchez had started behind the plate for Tanaka’s previous three outings, but Girardi wouldn’t commit to Romine always catching Tanaka in the future.
“I’m not saying he won’t catch him the next time, but I’m not going to say that Gary Sanchez doesn’t know how to catch him, because Gary has done a good job with him.”
Tanaka fanned Mark Canha in a 10-pitch at-bat leading off the eighth, then was replaced after Rosales’ hit. Clippard threw a pickoff past first baseman Chris Carter for an error that allowed Rosales to reach third, and Rajai Davis hit a two-hopper to third baseman Chase Headley, who threw to the plate in time for Romine to tag Rosales, who slid headfirst.
Matt Joyce walked on a 3-2 pitch, Lowrie singled to right as Rajai Davis came home and Joyce took third. Khris Davis grounded to Didi Gregorius, who stopped the ball with a slide deep in the hole, and Davis just beat the shortstop’s throw.
Sean Manaea (3-3), starting because Kendall Graveman was scratched with a sore pitching shoulder, matched Tanaka and allowed four hits in seven innings. Ryan Madson pitched a perfect eighth and New York loaded the bases with one out in the ninth against Santiago Casilla before Gregorius hit a sacrifice fly and Sanchez pinch hit for Headley and popped out.
“It’s a power bat. With two outs, you’re looking for a home run there,” Girardi said.
Headley struck out in his first two at-bats and grounded into an inning-ending double play, extending his rut to 2 for 27.
“His job is to make the decision that he thinks is best for the team,” Headley said.
The crowd of 39,044 included many sailors in their naval whites.
Yankees: A day after CF Jacoby Ellsbury went on the seven-day concussion DL, Girardi said it was hard to predict when he will return. The medical staff was determining what Ellsbury can do. “It won’t be much for a few days,” he said. … Closer Aroldis Chapman is to play catch Saturday, his first baseball activity since May 12.
LHP CC Sabathia (4-2) pitches Saturday for the Yankees after winning consecutive starts for the first time since June 10 and 16 last year. RHP Jharel Cotton, 3-4 with a 5.68 ERA before he was optioned to Triple-A Nashville on May 11, will be recalled to start for Oakland.