NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As far as Pedro Martinez is concerned, the Yankees have a major liability in their rotation in the form of their No. 1 starter.
Martinez, who knows a thing or two about pitching after winning three Cy Young Awards during his Hall of Fame career, took to Twitter late Monday night to criticize Masahiro Tanaka, the Bombers’ struggling right-hander.
Once one of the toughest competitors in the game, Martinez questioned Tanaka’s ability to turn around what has been thus far a mostly dreadful 2017 season.
“I don’t see him getting any better,” Martinez tweeted.
The Yankees are hoping Martinez’s comments end up out in left field somewhere, because their chances of making the playoffs hinge directly on Tanaka getting his act together. Though New York currently sits atop of the AL East, it holds only a two-game lead over one of Martinez’s former teams, the Boston Red Sox.
Tanaka, who pitched a three-hitter earlier this season in Boston, will be on the mound Tuesday night when the Yankees and Red Sox resume their bitter rivalry. If history is any indication, he should be at least decent. He is 2-0 with a 2.14 ERA in his last five starts against the Red Sox.
However, since his 97-pitch gem in the 3-0 win at Fenway Park on April 27, Tanaka has been abysmal by his usual lofty standards, going 2-4 with an 8.42 ERA in six starts. During that span, the Japanese right-hander allowed 48 hits, including 11 home runs, and 29 earned runs in just 31 innings.
“It’s tough, obviously,” Tanaka said through an interpreter after allowing seven earned runs and nine hits over 5 2/3 innings in a 10-4 loss at Baltimore on May 31. “The games that I’ve been pitching, we’ve been losing. It’s tough. I’ve just got to keep on fighting.”
Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothschild told reporters prior to Tuesday’s opener against Boston he’s not necessarily worried about Tanaka’s velocity or bite on his out pitches, concerns some have due to the partially torn elbow ligament he has pitched with over the last few seasons. Rothschild seems to believe the right-hander’s problems have stemmed more from his location and predictability.
“I think he needs to just worry about one thing and that is the pitch at hand,” Rothschild said. “Take the focus off all the other stuff and just make pitches.’’
The amazing thing about Tanaka’s ongoing struggles is the Yankees are somehow in first place. The rest of the starting rotation, which was deemed a major question mark back in spring training, has more than picked up the slack. Veterans CC Sabathia (4.12 ERA) and Michael Pineda (3.76) have combined to go 12-5, while youngsters Luis Severino and Jordan Montgomery are a collective 7-6 with a 3.25 ERA.
But how long can that group be expected to keep doing what it is doing? Clearly, the Yankees are going to need Tanaka’s overall 6.34 ERA, which ranks 87th out of 88 MLB starters that qualify, to start dropping if they are to be considered serious contenders for more than just a playoff spot.
On a personal note, Tanaka can opt out of the remaining three years of his contract after this season. Right now, it’s hard to imagine him doing better than the $67 million he will receive if he stays.