NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka had been buzzing along for five innings on Friday night with a low pitch count in a 1-1 game when Yankees manager Joe Girardi was faced with a dilemma he never encounters in the American League.
Whether to pinch-hit for his pitcher in a possible bases-loaded situation, two out and rookie left-hander Steven Matz on the mound in the top of the sixth of what turned out to be a 5-1 loss to the Mets.
With the designated hitter in use in all AL games and Interleague games played when the AL team is at home, it just doesn't happen. But this game was at Citi Field and Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees' DH, was relegated to the bench. Tanaka batted ninth.
"If the bases were loaded I thought about pinch-hitting Al, yes," Girardi said.
Even as well as Tanaka was pitching?
"Yes," Girardi said.
It never got to that, because .229-hitting shortstop Brendan Ryan grounded out, but the decision-making process between Girardi and Mets manager Terry Collins proved to be the nexus of what at that point was a taut and tense game.
With runners on first and third, Collins had his choice of pitching to Ryan or forcing Girardi's hand in regard to Tanaka. At that point, Tanaka had allowed only three hits and a Lucas Duda homer.
Collins said it really wasn't much of a choice.
"I kind of figured since they had [Chasen] Shreve warming up, [Girardi] was going to pinch-hit for [Tanaka]," Collins said. "I didn't want A-Rod up there against Steven Matz, if that makes any sense. So I just said I'd take my chance with Ryan."
Girardi had no intention of wasting A-Rod, and that's why with second base open, he didn't use Rodriguez instead of Ryan. Collins could have easily intentionally walked A-Rod to load the bases anyway.
"I thought about using Alex there, but there was an open base," Girardi said. "Even though it's second, there is an open base and you can pitch around him. Then you have to take Tanaka out and he was throwing the ball extremely well, so we decided not to."
As fate would have it, Tanaka stayed in the game long enough to allow what turned out to be a game-deciding homer by David Murphy with two out and none on in the sixth. That gave the Mets a 2-1 lead, and they added on from there.
Girardi lifted the often-injured Tanaka after six innings and only 82 pitches anyway, perhaps to save his tender arm for the final two weeks of the season and a possible AL Wild Card Game presented by Budweiser on Oct. 6.
His next start is slated for this coming Wednesday night against the Blue Jays in Toronto.
"I understand that they had to pull me out a little bit earlier today," Tanaka said, "but, yeah, obviously if they wanted me to go in five days, I'll be ready to go."
Tanaka missed most of his inaugural 2014 season after coming over from Japan because of a partially torn ligament in his right elbow. He has been dodging Tommy John surgery ever since. This season he missed the entire month of May because of right wrist tendinitis and a strain in his right forearm.
His fastball just doesn't have the same zip as it did last year pre-injury, when he opened with 11 wins in his first 12 decisions and was 12-4 before missing three months. Consequently, he must spot the ball. When he lays it out over the plate, he gets hammered. Thus, he's allowed 24 homers now in 149 innings, as opposed to 15 homers in 136 1/3 innings last season.
"Yeah, I would have to agree. Obviously, the number of home runs hit against me have been more compared to last year," he said. "I think it's location. I'm just getting the ball up to the batters."
Even so, Girardi said he was considering keeping Tanaka in to pitch at least one more inning in Friday night's game. He finished by allowing just five hits and two runs on the two homers, striking out four. His control was so effective he didn't walk a batter.
"If he doesn't give up the homer, I'm probably going to let him go out for the seventh," Girardi said. "We were discussing that. Do you pinch-hit for him in the top of the seventh? His pitch count never really got too high that we had to worry about it."