Masahiro Tanaka has enjoyed a successful start to his major league career, though most of the offense against him has come on home runs.
He’ll take on baseball’s best home run-hitting team Sunday night when he faces red-hot Albert Pujols and the Los Angeles Angels at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka (3-0, 2.15 ERA) thus far looks like he may be well worth the $155 million price tag he fetched from the Yankees (14-10). He’s struck out 35 batters over 29 1-3 innings in four starts while issuing only two walks. Tanaka could be in elite company if he continues that pace, as Ben Sheets in 2006 is the only pitcher dating to at least 1914 to average at least nine strikeouts and fewer than one walk per nine innings in more than five starts.
The right-hander’s WHIP of 0.82 ranks among the best in the majors.
"We knew his command was good, but it’s been really, really good," manager Joe Girardi told the team’s website. "He didn’t walk people in spring training. We saw that. He’s got a real good idea of what he’s doing out there."
Beyond exceptional control, Tanaka has induced misses on 29.4 percent of the swings against him.
He limited Boston to two runs and five hits over 7 1-3 innings in a 9-3 road victory Tuesday. Both runs came on solo shots, and six of the eight runs he’s allowed have come on four homers.
Given Tanaka’s limited knowledge of the tendencies of most hitters he faces, he said he’s relied mostly on catcher Brian McCann to call his pitches. The Yankees’ battery may have to exercise some caution against the Angels (11-12), whose 36 homers lead the majors and .449 slugging percentage ranks among the best.
Pujols hit his 501st homer in Friday’s series opener and has nine in his last 16 games. He’s posted four consecutive two-hit games and has scored in eight straight while slugging .879.
The former MVP is batting .413 over his last 11 games versus New York.
Though the Angels’ offense wasn’t nearly as explosive in Saturday’s 4-3 loss after hitting four homers in a 13-1 win Friday, Mike Trout hit a solo shot in the first inning. It was his sixth of the season and first in nine games.
Trout has hit safely in 15 of 17 career games against the Yankees with a 1.132 OPS, 14 runs scored and 13 RBIs.
New York responded with three runs in the second inning Saturday with backup catcher John Ryan Murphy driving in two. He also broke a 3-all tie with his first career homer in the fifth, and closer David Robertson stranded Trout on second base in the ninth in his first save since coming off the disabled list.
Los Angeles was 2 for 14 with runners in scoring position.
"We created," manager Mike Scioscia said. "We just couldn’t get that one hit."
The Angels hope Garrett Richards (2-0, 2.52) can continue his success on the road, where he owns a 1.00 ERA in three outings. Richards yielded only one hit for the second time in three starts Monday, allowing a homer to Ian Desmond in six innings before the Angels rallied for a 4-2 win at Washington.
Richards is 0-2 with a 5.14 ERA in three career games – two starts – against the Yankees. He recorded a complete game in a 2-1 loss the last time he saw them, allowing seven hits Aug. 12 in the Bronx.