If New York Yankees fans were looking toward Masahiro Tanaka to provide an opening, steady presence from the starting pitching staff, they were hit with a ton of bricks on Sunday.
Believed to be the one true ace in New York’s rotation that contains much uncertainty beneath him, Tanaka was tagged for seven runs in 2.2 innings during the Yankees’ Opening Day loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.
It was the shortest Opening Day start by a Yankee since Ron Guidry in 1983 and doomed New York to a sixth-straight loss on their first game of the season, the longest streak in franchise history.
If a Rays team considered to be an afterthought in the AL East could knock around their star arm like that, just imagine the rest of the rotation.
Behind Tanaka, the Yankees currently have just three other starters seeing as they don’t need a No. 5 until Apr. 16. After CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, Luis Severino was the one given the No. 4 spot late in the spring.
The support system for Tanaka in the rotation isn’t exactly a sturdy one, either. In the past two years, the trio of Sabathia, Pineda and Severino has combined for a 41-55 record.
Sabathia will get the ball next on Tuesday in St. Petersburg where he will attempt to shake off a disastrous final start in spring training. Pitching for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre on Thursday, Sabathia allowed eight runs, three of them earned, on nine hits in just four innings.
If there was a positive to take out of it, it was that he looked healthy after a daunting two-year stretch that included checking into rehab during the 2015 season and undergoing knee surgery after 2016.
The 36-year-old’s velocity isn’t what it used to be considering he averaged over 94 miles per hour on his fastball during his first season with the Yankees in 2009. Last year, his heater averaged around 90, per FanGraphs.
But his WHIP has decreased steadily since 2014 from 1.48 to 1.32 last year, his lowest mark since 2012.
Looking ahead to Tuesday night, Sabathia has seen mediocre success against the Rays during his career. In 41 starts, he is 14-14 with a 3.83 ERA and his 38 home runs allowed are his most against any team in the majors.
A large roadblock for him in the Rays lineup is third baseman Evan Longoria, who has owned Sabathia throughout his career with a .452 average alongside three home runs and nine RBI in 42 at bats.
Longoria already took Tanaka deep on Opening Day and has a chance to spark the Rays to a pair of early, somewhat unlikely wins against their division rivals.
It will be up to Sabathia to stymie any sort of Tampa momentum and put Yankee minds at ease that the pitching staff has some semblance of depth.