NEW YORK -- Four days after coming off the disabled list to hold the Mariners to one run in seven innings, Masahiro Tanaka said he hasn't felt this good in a year.
Making his first start in almost six weeks Wednesday, Tanaka saw his velocity return to normal, alleviating some concerns about the durability of his right elbow. The right-hander touched 95 mph on the radar gun multiple times in Seattle and averaged over 93 mph on his fastball for the first time this season, according to BrooksBaseball.net.
On Sunday, he said it's the best he's felt since last season's three-month run of excellence, a stretch that saw him post a 2.10 ERA in over 115 innings.
"I think all my pitches were coming out good from my hand," Tanaka said through a translator. "It's pretty similar to the good run that I had last year."
Tanaka doesn't rely on velocity to get hitters out, choosing instead to focus on the location of his pitches before turning to a hard-dipping splitter in strikeout situations. The return to normal velocity is nice to see, he said, but not an important factor in how he evaluates his performance.
"I guess velocity is important in some aspects, but I look at more of my command of the pitches, if I'm being able to locate the ball where I want to," he said. "For me, that's more important."
Tanaka had been close to normal before being placed on the DL, recording a 3.22 ERA in four April starts. But the right-hander wasn't himself on the mound. His average fastball velocity was down to 91.43 mph, which limited the effectiveness of his offspeed pitches.
The velocity returned to form against the Mariners, and Tanaka struck out nine over seven innings while allowing just three hits and no walks. Yankees manager Joe Girardi said no matter how a pitcher chooses to attack hitters, a little extra speed on a pitch can't hurt.
"The extra velocity makes guys speed up, is what it does. It's not the key to pitching," Girardi said. "But it does allow you to do some extra things."
Tanaka, the Yankees' Opening Day starter, is scheduled to make his next start Tuesday against Max Scherzer and the Nationals.
Alden Woods is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.