ST. PETERSBURG -- Masahiro Tanaka scrambled off the mound and darted directly toward the runner between second and third bases, undeterred by Steve Pearce's desperate dekes as he slapped a tag on the Rays' designated hitter, ripping his execution directly from the fundamental playbook.
Tanaka impressed the Yankees with his agility on an unassisted fifth-inning putout, but as he picked up the win in a 4-1 victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field, they considered all 21 of the right-hander's outs from Friday's effort to be equally splendid.
"I think it's important as a pitcher to be able to field good, as well," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I always have that in mind, and I always try to prepare myself to make those kinds of plays."
Yankees manager Joe Girardi joked that Tanaka's ease in executing the putout might prompt an appearance as a pinch-runner in a National League park.
"It was incredible," Girardi said. "He was quicker than I thought. Very heads-up. He didn't fall for any fakes, he ran right at him. He did it perfectly."
There had been no traffic on the basepaths through the first four innings, as Tanaka retired the first 12 Rays. Pearce opened the fifth with a clean single to center field, and Tanaka permitted just one other knock in an 82-pitch outing, walking none and striking out four with two wild pitches.
"If you look at what Tanaka did today, it was unbelievable," Alex Rodriguez said. "He was so efficient with his pitches, it looked like he could have pitched a complete game."
That seemed to be the case as Tanaka cruised through seven, staked to a three-run lead thanks in large part to some solid defense -- particularly Brett Gardner's leaping catch against the wall to rob Corey Dickerson in the fifth inning.
"I think overall, the way I pitched was better than the previous couple of games, but I think it's all about the defense tonight," Tanaka said.
Girardi opted to use three relievers to lock down the win. Andrew Miller worked a scoreless eighth and Kirby Yates surrendered a solo homer in the ninth before Aroldis Chapman was summoned for the final out, throwing nine pitches in a non-save situation.
Because Tanaka's next start will be on the regular four days' rest, Girardi said, the Yankees decided to be conservative.
"That's part of it," Girardi said. "I thought he did his job. Miller has not thrown in a while. I thought we needed to get him out there. He's coming back on regular rest. So he did his job."
Girardi said that he wanted Chapman to have "a little wiggle room" in recording the final out.
"We'd lost a couple in a row," Girardi said. "[Chapman's] a guy that's used to pitching three days in a row. I'm OK with it. I knew I wouldn't throw him many pitches."
Those explanations seemed to make sense to Tanaka, though he did believe that there was enough in the tank to work a complete game.
"Maybe I think I would have been able to finish the game, but I think there's a reason behind why they pulled me out, and I understand that," Tanaka said.
Bryan Hoch has covered the Yankees for MLB.com since 2007. 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.