Masahiro Tanaka was not impressed with his stuff and said he struggled to hit spots Tuesday night.
If allowing one run and five hits while striking out 10 in six innings is the definition of not having his best stuff, the Yankees will gladly take that every time.
That is what they received during Tanaka’s 11th win and it led them to a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.
Tanaka faced the Blue Jays for the second time, marking the first of five straight projected starts he will make against teams that have seen him before. It looked like the Blue Jays had a read on him early with four hits in three innings against his four-seam fastball.
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Former Mets shortstop Jose Reyes hit a first-pitch home run to right field in the first. It was the second time Tanaka allowed a leadoff home run to Toronto, after giving up one to Melky Cabrera in his major league debut April 4, but by his estimation the first he had ever allowed on the first pitch of a game.
“I don’t feel I was making any adjustments,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “Overall I think my stuff was not really that good. All I was trying to do was try to hang in there and keep the ball down.”
Eventually he dominated the final three innings for his fifth straight win, 14th straight quality start and 12th win by the Yankees when he pitches.
The most impressive display during Tanaka’s 104-pitch night came in the fifth when he fanned Cabrera on a splitter, Jose Bautista on a slider and Edwin Encarnacion on another splitter to end the inning.
“I think just giving up that home run kind of threw me off my rhythm a little bit,” Tanaka said. “So I just said to myself that I really need to hang in there and not give in.”
“He just threw a pitch down the middle and up to start the game,” said manager Joe Girardi, who won his 600th game with the team. “Reyes is very familiar with this ballpark and he knows what to do with it. He jumped out on it, went for the short part of the park and hit it out. Then he just started doing what he does.”
Tanaka continued living up to the hype, though it’s fair to say nobody expected it. In an era where pitcher wins are not considered as important as in the past, Tanaka’s have been vital. His other numbers back it up, including 113 strikeouts in 99 2/3 innings against 16 walks and 79 hits allowed.
“I don’t think it’s fair to expect that from anyone,” Girardi said. “I don’t care what your stuff is. I don’t care if you throw 110 [mph]. What he’s done has been remarkable and he has been a big part of our success this year and he continues to just grind out starts and make adjustments and give us distance. He wins.”
Tanaka threw 66-of-104 pitches for strikes and had six three-ball counts. He also held the Blue Jays to one hit in 10 at-bats with men on base as the Yankees improved to 12-2 in his starts.
“I feel that I was not able to make my pitches,” Tanaka said. “I was not able to hit the spots.”
Tanaka's night ended when he stranded designated hitter Juan Francisco at second by retiring second baseman Munenori Kawasaki, who was 18-for-64 (.281) off Tanaka in Japan.
Tanaka’s start against the best lineup he’s faced all year can be measured with grit.
“He’s been really good,” said David Robertson, who picked up his 17th save with a scoreless ninth. “He battled his butt off. It was hot and sticky and he did a great job.”
Follow Yankees beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.