TAMPA — Masahiro Tanaka will open the season as the Yankees’ No. 2 starter behind Gerrit Cole, but he has posted ace-like numbers in three spring starts.
Working against the Braves on Sunday at Steinbrenner Field, Tanaka didn’t allow a run in 3 ²/₃ innings, gave up one hit, didn’t issue a walk and fanned four in the Yankees’ 1-0 win over the Braves.
In 8 ²/₃ innings this spring, Tanaka has allowed two runs, two hits, fanned seven and lowered his ERA to 2.08.
Which means nothing to the 31-year-old right-hander who will be eligible for free agency following the season.
“No, not at all,’’ Tanaka said when asked if he put any stock in spring training numbers.
For the second time in four years, Tanaka had a bone spur removed from his right elbow following last season, in which he went 11-9 with a 4.55 ERA in 32 games and tied a career-high with 31 starts.
The elbow shows no sign of hindering Tanaka, who said he is pleased that he can take a regular turn.
“Just being healthy enough to rack up the innings, the number of pitches and being able to work on a lot of my pitches,’’ Tanaka said. “Maybe the cutter more so than the others just to see how it plays out.’’
As for the cutter, a pitch he has prioritized this spring, Tanaka said he was pleased with the result.
“I like the ones I threw against righties. Some of them were sharp enough to get swings and misses,’’ Tanaka said.
So did Aaron Boone.
“Masa has been really good all spring. He made some really good pitches with the cutter, even to righties,’’ Boone said of Tanaka, who threw 32 of 52 pitches for strikes. “The cutter was good, command good and he has been in a good place since he got down here and another step up there for the fourth.’’
Adam Ottavino’s signature pitch will always be a filthy slider that eats up right-handed hitters, but Boone said the right-handed reliever has another weapon that will help.
“The changeup has become a pitch for him, seeing a lot against left-handed hitters and he has had really good results with it,’’ Boone said of Ottavino, who worked a clean fifth inning Sunday. “He has had really good results with it and he has taken it into games. That will be a factor this year, especially against lefties to keep them off balance.’’
A year ago Tyler Wade started the exhibition season with a blistering bat that helped him hit .308 (16-for-52) in 20 games but failed to land him a spot on the Yankees’ 25-man roster.
This year the left-handed-hitting Wade, who can play second, short and third as well the corner outfield spots, is off to a slow start, but still is likely to be part of the 26-man roster the Yankees bring to Baltimore on March 26 for Opening Day.
“Struggling a bit timing-wise,’’ Boone said of Wade, who went hitless in three at-bats Sunday and is hitting .080 (2-for-25). “Today he got all lefties. I don’t feel he is too far off, I feel his work has been pretty good but just not barreling a lot right now.’’
Wade and center fielder Brett Gardner collided in shallow center field in the top of the fifth and Gardner went to the turf but wasn’t injured. Wade was backing up toward center field and Gardner was coming in. Wade caught Yonder Alonso’s pop-up and banged into Gardner.
Third baseman Gio Urshela and first baseman Mike Ford combined to rob Adeiny Hechavarria of a base hit in the second inning. Urshela dived to his right to glove the ball and Ford dug his throw out of the dirt. The Yankees were held to six hits and Clint Frazier had two of them. He is hitting .353 (6-for-17).
The Yankees make a short trip to Clearwater to play Joe Girardi’s Phillies. J.A. Happ looks to extend a strong spring in his fourth start. The Phillies will start Aaron Nola.