NEW YORK (AP) — At the start of a tough week for his team, Masahiro Tanaka made things look easy on the mound against the Tampa Bay Rays again.
Tanaka pitched a career-best two-hitter with 10 strikeouts for his fourth major league shutout, and the New York Yankees beat Tampa Bay 3-0 on Monday night to increase their slim lead in the AL East.
“You could tell he could smell the finish line,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “Big-time performance to kick off this series for us.”
DJ LeMahieu hit a two-run homer off Yonny Chirinos, and Cameron Maybin went deep in his career-high third consecutive game. That was all a dominant Tanaka (5-5) needed while throwing 76 of 111 pitches for strikes in New York’s first complete game since his gem at Tampa Bay last July.
Edwin Encarnación received an enthusiastic ovation from fans in his Yankees debut after being acquired from Seattle in a trade late Saturday night. Batting fifth as the designated hitter, the veteran slugger went 0 for 4 with a strikeout his first time up.
“It’s very exciting to wear the uniform,” he said through a translator.
New York won the opener of a three-game series and moved 1½ games ahead of second-place Tampa Bay. Once the Rays leave town, AL West-leading Houston arrives for four games.
Tanaka has won consecutive starts for the first time winning three in a row last September. He’s gone the distance seven times since coming over from Japan before the 2014 season.
But in a bit of a surprise, he felt he got lucky in this one.
“My pitches weren’t as sharp as I wanted them to be,” Tanaka said through a translator.
Maybin, his days in pinstripes perhaps numbered, finished 3 for 3 with two singles. He homered leading off the fifth inning and scored on LeMahieu’s two-out shot in the third.
Tanaka retired his first nine batters before Austin Meadows singled sharply off the right field wall to start the fourth. A two-out single in the fifth by Willy Adames was Tampa Bay’s only other hit.
“He didn’t miss any spots. He was very precise,” Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe said. “I feel like every time he’s come out against us, he’s had really good stuff and it was almost like tonight was a little bitter than the rest and you have to tip your cap to him. He was better than us tonight.”
Tanaka walked only one and set down the final 10 Rays batters, striking out six. He improved to 4-2 with a 1.29 ERA in seven starts against the Rays since July 28, 2017 — including a three-hit shutout last July 24.
“After the fourth inning, everything clicked,” Yankees catcher Gary Sánchez said. “What else can you ask for from Tanaka? An amazing job.”
This season, the right-hander has allowed one earned run in 22 innings versus Tampa Bay. He is 2-0 with 23 strikeouts in three outings.
“He’s got our number right now. We have to do a better job of making some adjustments, not being afraid to change up some routines, whatever, when you walk up to the plate. Because whatever he’s doing and whatever we’re doing is not working,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said.
“He’s got a knack for pitching to the edges and getting a lot of soft contact on some pitches that you probably would not offer at. But maybe a little bit more of a less-aggressive approach might help.”
Chirinos (7-3) gave up five hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked one.
Tanaka has three of New York’s past five complete games, beginning with his five-hitter against Toronto on Aug. 15, 2015.
The only other two-hitter by a Yankees pitcher since the start of 2009 was thrown by Hiroki Kuroda against Texas in August 2012. The last New York hurler to toss a two-hitter with at least 10 strikeouts was Mike Mussina in September 2002 against Tampa Bay.
Shifted over from third base, LeMahieu made a diving stop up the middle to begin a slick force play that drew an appreciative bow from a clapping Tanaka.
New York has homered in 20 straight games, the second-longest streak in team history.
Rays: RHP Tyler Glasnow (right forearm strain) threw off a mound Saturday and is expected to do so again Tuesday or Wednesday at Yankee Stadium.
Yankees: OF Giancarlo Stanton is set to come off the injured list Tuesday. He has been sidelined since March 31 with biceps, shoulder and calf injuries. To open a roster spot, New York optioned OF Mike Tauchman to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. … RF Aaron Judge (left oblique strain) is rehabbing at Triple-A and could be back in a few days. When he returns, Maybin might be the odd man out in a roster crunch. The journeyman outfielder is batting .400 (12 for 30) with two doubles, three homers, four RBIs and 10 runs in his last eight games.
Left-hander J.A. Happ (6-3, 4.66 ERA) pitches the second game of the series for the Yankees on Tuesday night. Tampa Bay plans to start RHP Ryne Stanek (0-1, 2.45) as an opener.
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