Give or take an inch, a few pounds and two or three miles per hour on their fastballs, Masahiro Tanaka and Max Scherzer are aesthetic equals. Scherzer’s career in the majors has been longer and therefore more accomplished - including a 2013 Cy Young award - but Tanaka continues to prove his place among the game’s best arms.
On Tuesday, Tanaka outdueled Scherzer, pitching seven standout innings and limiting the Washington Nationals to five hits and one run as the Yankees won their seventh straight game, 6-1, at Yankee Stadium.
Tanaka seamlessly followed up on his dazzling June 3 return, in which he limited the Seattle Mariners to three hits and one run in seven innings while striking out nine.
“No doubt,” Stephen Drew said when asked if Tanaka was comparable to Scherzer. “Look at his last outing. The good thing is he’s healthy. When you’ve got a healthy Tanaka like that, he’s pretty dominant.”
Tanaka, though, was not quite ready to anoint himself in the same class as Scherzer.
“Obviously, I knew who I was going up against today, a good pitcher,” Tanaka said through an interpreter. “But still, I’ve only had one year and a little bit here, so still I have to sort of build myself up to being a better pitcher.”
Still, Manager Joe Girardi thought that Tanaka (4-1) relished the opportunity to face a fellow ace.
“I think he enjoys the stage; I think that’s one of the reasons he came to New York, too, because I think he likes the competition and the excitement of pitching here,” Girardi said.
Tanaka’s and Scherzer’s mechanics contrast in style, but early in the game, they matched each other in efficiency.
Scherzer is the more imposing right-handed presence on the mound, expanding every inch of his 6-foot-3 frame to maximum effect.
He begins his pre-windup by raising his right hand in his glove over his head before resting his arms in front of his face, forming an inverted V. Turning his left foot, he taps his right foot twice before planting back on his left and throwing an assortment of mid-90s fastballs, changeups and breaking pitches.
Scherzer repeated the process with good results through six innings - Drew’s solo home run in the third was the only blemish - before the Yankees broke open the game by scoring four runs in the seventh.
The Yankees occasionally tried to disrupt his rhythm by stepping away from the plate. Thrown off his routine, Scherzer (6-5) sneered and jerked his body in disapproval, only to continue throwing strikes.
Tanaka’s motion is less constrained, and he is less emotional, but he baffled the Nationals nonetheless. Unlike Scherzer, Tanaka opens by forming a V below his waist with his right hand in his glove. He then slowly brings his arms up to his chest, stepping back with his left foot, while keeping his right foot on the rubber. Sweeping his left leg around like a slingshot, Tanaka fires to the plate.
“The amount of strikes that he’s throwing is outstanding,” Girardi said. “I don’t think you could ask for any more than what he’s done.”
His only mishap came in the fourth when Bryce Harper hit his 20th home run of the season, clearing the center-field wall just left of Monument Park.
Tanaka is more finicky than Scherzer, occasionally massaging the ball or adjusting his sleeves. But no matter his approach, he looked to have put behind him the right forearm strain and wrist tendinitis that sent him to the disabled list for more than a month earlier this season. He left the game after throwing 87 pitches.
The Yankees got to Scherzer as he topped 100 pitches in the seventh. With Ramon Flores on second base, Brett Gardner on first and two outs, Alex Rodriguez hit a sharp ground ball that shortstop Ian Desmond snagged with a diving lunge to his right. Desmond tried to force Flores at third but hit him in the leg with the throw, allowing Flores to score.
Scherzer left the game down by 2-1. Matt Thornton intentionally walked Mark Teixeira to load the bases, and Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran followed with R.B.I. singles to complete a four-run inning.
Drew, whose home run was his 1,000th career hit, homered again to right field in the eighth. Last Friday, Drew hit two home runs against the Los Angeles Angels.
The Yankees’ top draft choice, James Kaprielian, a right-handed pitcher from U.C.L.A. who was selected with the 16th overall pick, will be represented by Scott Boras. Kaprielian, a 40th-round draft pick by Seattle out of high school in 2012, said in a conference call that going to college was “the best decision I could have made.” Kaprielian grew up in Tustin, Calif., in the same Orange County area where the former Yankees first-round picks Ian Kennedy and Phil Hughes grew up. When Alex Rodriguez worked out at U.C.L.A. last fall, Kaprielian did not introduce himself, saying he did not want to bother Rodriguez. “Every time he was out there, I’d make a stop to the batting cages just to watch his work and how diligent he was,” Kaprielian said.
Source: Free News Headlines Sports Yankees 6, Nationals 1: Masahiro Tanaka Flashes Form and Substance in Yankees Win