The Yankees paid a lot of money this winter for Masahiro Tanaka to be a very good starting pitcher in their rotation. Through his first three career starts, he's been nothing short of outstanding.
Facing one of the teams that made a hard push to sign Tanaka, the Chicago Cubs, the Japanese right-hander permitted just two base hits -- both bunt singles -- in eight great innings of work, while striking out 10, as the Yankees defeated the Cubs, 3-0, in the first game of the day-night doubleheader Wednesday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.
Carlos Beltran put the Yankees on the board two batters into the bottom of the 1st inning with a solo homerun off Chicago starter Jason Hammel that, alone, was enough to win the game behind Tanaka, who was nearly unhittable.
Tanaka set a career-high in strikeouts in his last start against the Baltimore Orioles by striking out 10, and he did the same today by using a mix of fastballs and his filthy slider to keep the Cubs' hitter off balance all afternoon.
He now has 28 strikeouts and just two walks through three starts this season. His 27th strikeout, which came in the 7th inning, set a Yankees franchise record for most strikeouts through the first three starts of a pitcher's season, passing Al Leiter for first place on the list.
The first hit he gave up was a bunt single by Junior Lake in the 2nd inning. Lake was originally called out at first base, but after Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged the call, the replay showed Lake was actually safe, so the call was over-turned for an infield single. The second hit was another bunt single; with the infield shifted over, first baseman Anthony Rizzo dropped down a bunt to third base, with nobody there.
As you probably guessed, Tanaka was able to work around those two singles, and the one walk he issued in the 1st inning, without giving up any runs. He lowered his ERA to 2.05 for the season, and I now 2-0 as a Yankee.
Dean Anna helped pad the lead a little bit in the 4th inning, driving in Brian McCann on a sac-fly, to make it a 2-0 game. McCann singled with one out, Yangervis Solarte walked, and Kelly Johnson singled to load the bases. Anna followed with the sac-fly to center field.
The Yankees added one more insurance run an inning later. Brett Gardner opened the inning with a ground-rule double the bounced over the fence when Lake lost the ball in the sun in right field. Beltran grounded out to the shortstop to move Gardner over to third, then on a seemingly off play, Jacoby Ellsbury hit a ground ball down the 1st base line, and was tagged out, while Gardner came in to score.
However, Ellsbury was awarded catcher's interference after his swing hit the catcher's glove, but manager Joe Girardi opted to trade the out for a run, rather than have runners on the corners with one out. So that made it a 3-0 Yankees lead.
That was more than enough for Tanaka and Shawn Kelley, who picked up his 4th save of the season by setting down the Cubs in the 9th, giving up just a single to right field to Rizzo.
Don't go just yet, the Yankees and Cubs will take the field one more time tonight at 7:05 pm ET for the nightcap of the doubleheader. Michael Pineda gets the call for the Yankees, going up against Cubs lefty Travis Wood. Derek Jeter is expected to be in the lineup for that game.