Tanaka has been shaky this spring. His last outing, a loss to the Astros was poor too. He does not look as hot as his first season, or at least before he got injured. Many will say that it is down to the injury and the fact he has not had it treated properly (ie surgery) but has had stopgap treatments on his elbow as if the coaches are afraid to lose him for more than a handful of weeks, which is what happened last season when he was injured.
Looking at him this spring, it can be said that he has looked so inconsistent that Pineda should be the starter for Opening Day. Either Pineda or Eovaldi would be good candidates for that honour. Both looked sharp last season. Though both are health risks too, and keeping them fit is a big deal down the stretch.
Joe is a cautious manager. He doesn’t like to change things up. It can be a strength as well as a liability and certainly there are many who would say that it is a liability for him to be still coaching the team with only one Pennant and World series title to his name. Coaches with better records were fired after less time with no titles. But I like Joe, and I like what he has done in laying down the gauntlet to Tanaka. He has told Tanaka to ramp it up for tonight’s game, treating it as though it was an audition for Opening Day rather than just another spring game where he goes to the mound, throws his required number of pitches, and never mind if he pitches badly or not, he is just getting his arm in.
He has to go about this as if he is competing to win an honour that means nothing in the long run but is significant enough that it is made a big deal of. Who starts for you should send a message to the league. Give the ball to a guy who is shaky and undependable, and you are saying that it really doesn’t matter at all how it goes this season. Joe has broken from his usual “z’all good” mindset and has now set about trying to get Tanaka to prove he deserves the slot. There are two guys who are well and truly entitled to it. If he doesn’t do well tonight then I hope that Joe has the courage to take it from him and give it to either Pineda or Eovaldi. I don’t think he will, to be honest, but just making Tanaka think he will, might be good enough to make Tanaka show the fans and coaches that they have something to be excited about.
This day week the Yanks will have a chance to exorcise the ghosts of last year’s flop in the Wild Cards… they also have the chance, should Tanaka start, have the chance to exorcise the Opening Day loss which was down to what became an all too familiar Tanaka implosion after what had been a great start to the game. That was against Toronto of course.
Tanaka must prove that he deserves that spot. That is the challenge for him tonight. Should he not prove he deserves it, then it is down to Girardi to prove that he is not afraid to mix it up and make the brave decisions when it comes down to it.