Mother Nature apparently didn’t want to see two of the best pitchers in the American League meet when the Yankees open a three-game series with the Mariners tonight at Safeco Field
The unique pitching duel would have been the talk of baseball. And across the Pacific Ocean in their native Japan, it would have been the talk of the country when the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka squared off against his friend, former teammate and mentor in the Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma.
“That’s a matchup I would pay to see, and I hope the ballpark is packed, because I think that’s going to be a dandy,” Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said.
But the Yankees game in Kansas City was rained out Monday. Manager Joe Girardi decided to ruin the fun by pushing back his scheduled starter for the day, Vidal Nuno, to Tuesday and Tanaka to Wednesday.
In their playing days in Japan with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, Iwakuma, 33, was an established All-Star pitcher when Tanaka, 25, was coming up. Iwakuma worked with and tutored the talented young pitcher, following the Japanese mentor-protege relationship of the senpai (Iwakuma) and the kohai (Tanaka).
“We’ve always been on the same side until a couple years ago,” Iwakuma said through interpreter Antony Suzuki on Sunday. “You look at him and he’s a teammate, he was part of the family. You used to root for the guy and now you’re going against him.”
The Yankees signed Tanaka to a $155 million, seven-year contract this offseason along with paying a $20 million posting fee to Rakuten, outbidding several teams in the process. He has been everything they had hoped for, if not more. Tanaka has posted a 9-1 record with a 2.02 earned-run average, striking out 92 batters in 841/3 innings.
“I’m not very surprised,” Iwakuma said. “I knew he was going to be a good pitcher here. He knows how to make adjustments on the mound and in games. I think this is him.”
Iwakuma could see that when Tanaka was a young but unpolished pitcher with Rakuten.
“He always had a high ceiling,” Iwakuma said. “As he matured, he’s gotten better with his command and his pitching in general.”
Iwakuma didn’t have quite the fanfare or salary as Tanaka when he signed a $1.5 million, one-year contract with the Mariners before the 2012 season. After battling arm fatigue early in that season, he had a strong second half, posting an 8-4 record in 16 starts with a 2.65 ERA. It was good enough for the Mariners to sign him to a $14 million, two-year contract after the season. He rewarded them with a brilliant 2013 season, finishing third in the Cy Young voting after posting a 14-6 record with a 2.66 ERA and being named an All-Star.
“This guy is a surgeon,” McClendon said. “He knows what he’s doing and what he wants to do to execute with certain guys.”
And he’s nearing full strength after missing spring training with a strained tendon on the middle finger of his throwing hand. He has a 4-2 record with a 2.66 ERA in seven starts.
“He knows he’s real close to where he needs to be,” McClendon said.
Had they pitched against each other, the old friends would’ve grabbed dinner during the series. Now an opponent, Iwakuma might even offer his teammates a scouting report on his friend.
“I do have some tips, but that’s top secret,” he said with a chuckle.
So here’s the updated pitching probables …
Yes, Erasmo Ramirez is listed. I don’t know if that uneven start yesterday bought him more time in the rotation. Taijuan Walker is still on the same schedule.
Walker was decent last night in Memphis. He pitched five innings, giving up two runs on four hits with a walk and a hit by pitch. The two runs were scored on solo homers from Greg Garcia and Thomas Pham. Was the outing good enough to get him back into the rotation? It’s something that will be discussed this week.
Today is the 19th day of the Logan Morrison’s rehab stint. He gets a total of 20 days. The Mariners will have to make a decision on what to do with him. Position players gets 20 days for a rehab stint. With Justin Smoak struggling and bothered by a sore quad, they could bring him up and use him at 1B and DH. The Mariners could put Smoak on the disabled list if they feel his quad isn’t improving. Morrison also has AAA options left and could stay down there. As McClendon pointed out a while ago, he was hitting .125 when he got hurt. But that’s something to watch for.
James Paxton started playing catch on Monday. I’m sure there will be an update on his status pregame (it won’t be from me).