Sunday, April 27, 2014

Tanaka gets first look at Angels in series finale

He's tangled with Jose Bautista of the Blue Jays, gone toe-to-toe with Chris Davis and Adam Jones of the Orioles, and stared down Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz of the Red Sox.

On Sunday, Masahiro Tanaka will face a new challenge: Mike Trout and Albert Pujols of the Angels.

It's still all new to him.

"I've been playing in Japan for the past seven years, so to be honest with you, I'm not really familiar with basically any of the batters here," Tanaka said through a translator on Saturday, leading up to Sunday's series finale against the Angels from Yankee Stadium.

"I can tell that they're really good batters, but the truth is, I haven't had the chance to face them yet, so it's hard to make any type of assessment. Looking at tape and film, yeah, they're really good."

And so is he.

The 25-year-old right-hander enters his matchup with Garrett Richards with a 3-0 record and 2.15 ERA in his first 29 1/3 innings in the U.S. His 35 strikeouts are a Yankees record for a pitcher's first four career starts, easily topping the 28 that Al Leiter (1987) and Orlando Hernandez (1998) put up, and the fourth-highest total through a pitcher's first four starts in Major League history.

Opponents are batting .314 against Tanaka the first time through the lineup, then only .149 after that.

And dating back to his time with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Tanaka hasn't lost a regular-season game since Aug. 19, 2012, going 31-0 since.

"We've only seen video on him," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, "but obviously, he has a terrific arm, and he looks like he knows his way around the mound and how he wants to pitch and what he wants to do."
Richards is there, too.

The 25-year-old right-hander established himself down the stretch last season, with a 3.72 ERA in 13 starts.

And he has seemingly taken it to another level in 2014 now that he has a guaranteed rotation spot for the first time, going 2-0 with a 2.52 ERA while striking out 24 batters in 25 innings.

"He's very confident right now," Angels pitching coach Mike Butcher said, "and when you're confident like that, you want to ride it out as long as you can."

Angels: Scioscia may load up on righties
Sunday may not be a good day for Raul Ibanez, Ian Stewart or any other left-handed bat available to Scioscia, even though the Angels are facing a right-hander. Tanaka entered Saturday ranked sixth in the Majors in opponents' batting average versus lefties (.164).

Yankees: Jeter still producing
Derek Jeter, who had an 11-game hitting streak snapped on Wednesday, has hit safely in 16 of his 19 games this season. On Saturday he played in a day game after starting a night game for the first time this season and finished 1-for-4 with a strikeout. His batting average is .292.

Worth noting
  • Richards has a 5.54 ERA in two career starts at Yankee Stadium. Last season, though, he pitched eight innings of two-run ball in the Bronx.
  • The Yankees have beaten the Angels in 21 of the last 29 games at the current Yankee Stadium (including the playoffs).

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