New York Yankees: Masahiro Tanaka Stumbles on Opening Day

The New York Yankees’ Opening Day was spoiled by the Tampa Bay Rays to begin the MLB season. They were doomed early as ace Masahiro Tanaka managed to pitch the team out of the game in just two innings.

Opening Day was far from kind to the New York Yankees on Sunday afternoon. They dropped game one of 162 in a 7-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. It’s only one game, though it certainly was not the start the Yanks were looking for. Even more so, it was not the start they expected from their ace. Masahiro Tanaka took responsibility for all seven forfeited runs, taking only two and two-thirds innings to give them up.

His performance was very unexpected. Not only because of his great track record, but also due to his nearly flawless spring. Tanaka allowed just one earned run in 23.2 innings in six Spring Training starts. He held opposing batters to an inferior .115 batting average during that time. Needless to say, the Yankees were beyond encouraged and excited about Tanaka’s upcoming season.

Spring Training can, of course, be taken lightly. Rarely do starting pitchers see an opposing team’s legitimate lineup, and hitters are generally working on various things throughout the spring, not always approaching an at-bat as they would in the regular season. However, spring is a significant building block for a pitcher in preparation for the main campaign. Tanaka was more than dominant this spring. You’d think it would be a nice indication in how he would transition to the games that count.

On the other hand, it’s just one start. A terrible start, but only one terrible start. The Rays appeared to catch Masahiro Tanaka off guard. They were aggressive early and were taking clear advantage of Tanaka’s lacking command. The Yankee ace did not have control of his best pitch Sunday afternoon, his split-finger fastball. That’s like Roger Federer losing his backhand for a match, or Jordan Speith’s putter acting up one round (for those of you who are also tennis or golf fans). Bottom line, it makes it extremely difficult for a pitcher to put forth a quality outing if his primary weapon is not in effect.

The panic meter should remain favorable toward Tanaka. The adrenaline was certainly pumping on Opening Day and he had to open the season on a discomforting road game against a scrappy Rays lineup. Masahiro Tanaka’s next start will be more telling to his projected 2017 success. Given the Yankees’ immediate rotation concerns, the last thing they need is for their coveted ace to get off to a poor start.

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