Masahiro Tanaka made his third start on Saturday, against the Lotte Marines, at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park and navigated another stage on his pilgrim’s progress through the pitfalls of poor command to earn his third win.
In his April 17, Tanaka couldn’t locate his fastball, and after serving up a pair of straight ones that reached the seats. But his other pitches that day were top notch, and after leaning heavily on the four-seamer at the start, he began throwing good sliders in the zone and retired 12 of his last 13 batters.
A week later, the Seibu Lions showed they were paying attention to that game. They went up looking for sliders up in the zone from the jump, and they jumped on those Tanaka served up early before going back to a balanced mix as he found his rhythm and retired the last 10 batters he faced.
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Which brings us to May Day, which is what an inner voice appeared to be shouting to Tanaka after he left straight pitches in the heart of the zone. With two on and two out, he missed dead center with a straight 3-2 fastball that Shogo Nakamura grounded to short.
As Nakamura made contact, a cartoon dialog bubble over Tanaka’s head read: “For goodness sakes.” Tanaka walked off the field, he looked completely and totally puzzled about what had gone wrong.
His fastball did have good life on it, even if his location was unreliable. Unlike the Fighters and Lions in his previous starts, the most noticeable thing about the Marines hitters was a determined effort to lay off Tanaka’s chase pitches, the big downward slider and split.
They seemed, however, unprepared to hit Tanaka’s mistakes in the zone. Mind you, that’s no easy feat even for pros against a guy who still throws reasonably hard with that dynamite split, a couple of different sliders, a good cutter and an occasional curve and change. Whatever the reason, Tanaka got away with a lot of mistakes.
- Q: How did you approach today’s game after winning your 100th in NPB last time?
- A: “The same as always. (laughs)”
- Q: Could you go over your pitching today for us?
- A: I had to pitch a lot with runners on and it was like one inning after another under extreme stress. I’m sure the people watching felt extremely stressed out as well. The good thing is that despite that I was somehow able to struggle through without allowing any runs.”
- Q: Pitching coach (Shinichiro) Koyama said your fastball had more life on it today than last week.
- A: “I think so. Although I threw a lot more pitches, today, but in terms of just the pitches themselves, I think overall they were better today.”
- Q: What is the cause of your tenacious pitching today?
- A: hmmmmmmmmmmm. The reason? I didn’t lose? (laughs)
- Q: What was your take on the run support you got in the third and fourth innings from Asamura and Okajima?
- A: We had some tenacious offense, too. And in that way, we scored and from that I found the rhythm within myself, so I’m grateful to them.