The New York Yankees pitching suffered a huge blow when the team learned that the reason Ivan Nova had to leave Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was because of a ligament tear in his pitching arm. Nova is the fourth starter in a Yankee four-man rotation that has them leading the American League East. Michael Pineda is stepping in to take his place in the rotation. His first game will be against the Boston Red Sox, whom the Yankees have beat four out of the five times the two teams have played. The last game being another dominant, no-walk outing by free-agent signing Masahiro Tanaka. With surgery likely for Nova, the Yankees will see him in a brace for a while, but they are hoping they can lean on Tanaka and the returning David Robertson, to continue to give them a chance to win every game.
Jacoby Ellsbury returned to Fenway Park and got booed by his former fans. He quickly lined a Jon Lester pitch into the outfield. A fan interference call returned Ellsbury to third and took away what would have been an inside-the-park home run. He ended up scoring when New York Yankee captain, Derek Jeter, knocked him in with an RBI single. That hit extended Jeter’s hitting streak to 11, but still only has him tied for fourth on the team in hits. Ellsbury leads the team in hits, followed by Carlos Beltran, who also leads the team in home runs. Alfonso Soriano has cut down on the strikeouts and continues to raise his batting average. This has contributed to the Yankees team batting average of .271, which is third in the majors. Some would say this is to be expected. The Yankees have a reputation for paying a premium for big bats. The weak link, even with a healthy Mariano Rivera in the bullpen the last few years, has been the end of the starting rotation and the middle relief.
Tanaka has performed masterfully in all of his four starts in a New York Yankee uniform, coming out with three wins and a no decision in which he had 10 strikeouts. What is impressive is his control, demonstrated by his fantastic strikeout-to-walk ratio of 35 to 2. In his first start against his now arch-rival Red Sox, Masahiro showed why the Yankees paid out $175 million dollars to get him to the Bronx. Besides two very high and very long home runs hit in the fourth inning by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, Tanaka was an arm the Yankees could lean on while the Red Sox had to brace for the worst. Tanaka, for his second outing in a row, did not walk a batter. How he would react to the pressure of a game between these two rivals was a hyped story-line before the game. He answered the question with a seven-strikeout performance after bouncing back from a rough fourth inning. The Yankee bats came alive also. That combination will prove to be hard to beat down the line.
The New York Yankees will have to hope that the injury to Nova can be mitigated by an action before the trade deadline, or someone within the organization stepping up to starter-level status. Tanaka is undefeated in his first year facing big league hitting and is showing no negative effects from the adjustment. The New York Yankees might see a key starter in a brace for a while, but they can rest assured that Tanaka will not fold under the pressure of a team with a championship-or-bust mentality, leaning on him to shut down the best hitters in the world.
Commentary by Daryl McElveen