SEATTLE -- It is possible that a month of rest and rehab may have helped Masahiro Tanaka build some strength that he lacked early in the season. If that proves to be the case, it could be bad news for the rest of the American League.
Tanaka turned in what he identified as his best outing of the season as he returned from the disabled list on Wednesday, striking out nine over seven innings of one-run ball as the Yankees completed a series sweep of the Mariners with a 3-1 victory at Safeco Field.
"It was a good outing, but it's just one outing," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I can't be too high about that. Right now, maybe I'll celebrate today, but starting tomorrow I'll look forward to my next outing and work on my stuff."
Operating on a pitch count as he made his first big league appearance since April 23 due to a right forearm strain and right wrist tendinitis, the 26-year-old still managed to provide the Yankees with distance as they completed a 4-3 West Coast road trip.
Tanaka permitted just three hits, and none after Logan Morrison's third-inning single, retiring the final 13 batters he faced before handing the ball off to the bullpen at just 78 pitches.
"He was incredible. Everything was for strikes," said catcher John Ryan Murphy. "He threw all of his pitches. The thing that he does so well is on both sides of the plate, the ball can go sideways both ways and go straight down. Everything was working today. Makes it really hard on the other hitters. It showed today."
Tanaka averaged 93.8 mph with his four-seam fastball, maxing at 95.8 mph, according to Brooks Baseball. Yanks manager Joe Girardi said that it was the best velocity they have recorded from Tanaka this year.
"It does help work the other pitches in my favor, so it's good," said Tanaka, who suggested the warmer weather might have been a factor. "Looking back at today's outing, I think my fastball was really good."
He garnered nine swings and misses, including six on his two-seamer, according to Brooks Baseball. Yanks first baseman Mark Teixeira said that those whiffs are a telltale sign when Tanaka looks right.
"It's a big league team over there, those are good hitters," Teixeira said. "They're swinging and missing a lot at that split. At 95 mph, his fastball has to keep you honest. Those are really good things to see."
Even more important than the radar gun readings was the return of Tanaka's command, which had been spotty during two Minor League rehabilitation starts with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
"There were questions after his last start," Girardi said. "I don't make too much of Triple-A starts in those situations just because when you're used to pitching at this level, you don't know exactly how you feel when you go down there. But he was really, really good."
"We need him," Teixeira said. "If we're going to go where we want to go this year, we need guys like Tanaka to be healthy and be in our starting rotation. Hopefully that's what we're going to have the rest of the year."
Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @bryanhoch, on Facebook and read his MLBlog, Bombers Beat. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.