Tanaka takes step forward in latest start

Righty holds Rays to three runs following back-to-back down outings

Tanaka takes step forward in latest start

NEW YORK -- It was a step in the right direction for Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka after back-to-back troublesome outings.

He tossed six solid innings during Friday night's game vs. the Rays, which the Yankees eventually won, 7-5, on Brian McCann's walk-off home run in the 12th inning. Tanaka allowed three runs on six hits with five strikeouts and one walk.

It qualified as a bounce-back start for Tanaka after he surrendered a career-high three home runs in consecutive outings while allowing a combined 13 runs (11 earned). Yet after the game, Tanaka was not completely satisfied with himself.

"I think it's a step forward," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I had two pretty bad outings, so if you look at that, today was a good step forward."

Tanaka was erratic at the start of the game, allowing the first three batters to reach base followed by a sacrifice fly as the Rays jumped to a 2-0 lead.

It was a worrisome opening to his outing, considering the Yankees have pointed to Tanaka's command as the biggest reason for his struggles, and he left a pair of splitters up in the zone during the first inning. But Tanaka made an adjustment to his mechanics after that inning and settled into the game. He delivered a steady dose of four-seam fastballs -- a pitch the Yankees have wanted him to throw more -- to keep the Rays off balance.

"The stuff is there," manager Joe Girardi said. "He just had better location tonight. He didn't have it with the two splits in the first, but after that it was really pretty good."

Girardi pulled Tanaka after 96 pitches. In his six starts since returning from the disabled list on June 3, Tanaka has not thrown more than 100 pitches in any of his outings. While Girardi said he could allow Tanaka to go pass 100 pitches if he is in a groove on the mound, this figures to be the new normal pitch count for Tanaka.

"It's going to be close to around that," Girardi said.

Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.