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Palladino: Fearless Masahiro Tanaka Is The Yankees’ Lifeline

Masahiro Tanaka  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

Masahiro Tanaka (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)

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By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

Now begins the talk, and it’s all good and it’s all justified.

Masahiro Tanaka for All-Star game starter. If he keeps going like this, it’ll soon be Tanaka for Rookie of the Year.

After his 4-2, complete-game victory in Seattle Wednesday, how could anyone blame anybody for engaging in such conjecture? At 10-1, with an AL-best 2.02 ERA, the Yanks would reside in nowhere-ville heading into last night’s game in Seattle, as opposed to the second-place tie they share with Baltimore at 34-31, 3 ½ games behind Toronto.

For a squad that’s having trouble scoring runs, Tanaka is just what Brian Cashman ordered when the GM won the bidding for the Japanese import. Since the start of the season, Tanaka has done nothing but dispel all concerns about how he’d do against major league hitters, as opposed to what he found in the Japanese league.

Get this. In his 13 starts, the Yanks are 11-2. And he came within two outs of his second shutout of the season, thanks to Robbie Cano’s ninth-inning, two-run homer.

Cut those 10 wins in half, say, and the Yanks would be floundering in fourth right now.

That may still happen, since the team’s pitching staff is still hurting mightily. Face it, they had to start rookie Chase Whitley at Safeco Field Thursday night. We still have no idea what Whitley has to offer on a consistent basis.

Tanaka has answered that question already, and at the same time has put himself in line for an All-Star game start, a Rookie of the Year trophy, and perhaps even a Cy Young Award. Keep in mind that no pitcher has started his career with both the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year since 1981, when Dodgers hurler Fernando Valenzuela took the majors by storm.

Tanaka doesn’t even have to glance at the sky, as Fernando did.

He just looks straight in and mows people down.

Everything about him has been impressive, right down to the 103 strikeouts against just 14 walks. In his second complete game of the season, he struck out 11 and walked one.

Of course, Tanaka couldn’t do what he’s doing without a little run support. The Yanks gave him just enough with their four runs, three of which Mark Teixeira and his balky wrist produced with a three-run homer. In fact, the Yanks haven’t exactly poured on the offense for him. Six of his wins have come with five or fewer runs of support, which indicates he’s generally working with a small margin of error.

Each of his 13 outings has been a quality start.

The guy knows what he’s doing. That’s pretty obvious.

It’s a good thing, too. Who knows when CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda are going to get back to work? If anyone thinks Vidal Nuno and Whitley are going to take the Yankees anywhere near the postseason, they should probably run to a psychiatrist ASAP.

So the Yanks must ride the Tanaka bandwagon as long as they can. The good news is that their current ace has shown no signs of fear, no signs of fault. Also, at 25, he’s probably not going to wear down in the late season as ancient Hiroki Kuroda did in 2013.

But the Yanks must get to that point first. They must tread water through a makeshift rotation and questionable offense long enough to get healthy again. Once that happens, they’ll have a chance to supplement the Japanese wonder’s outstanding splitter with the velocity and experience of Sabathia and Pineda.

Perhaps that will be the recipe for a return to the playoffs.

Until that happens, though, they can grab onto the Tanaka lifeline every five days.

Just pray for rain the other four.

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