TAMPA — At exactly this time last year, Masahiro Tanaka already knew he was the Opening Day starter.
Tanaka was supposed to be the surest thing in the starting rotation in 2017, but it turned out he was far from it.
The 29-year-old righty went 7-8 with a 5.47 ERA in the first half before going 6-4 with a 3.77 ERA in the second half. He finally turned it up in the playoffs, posting a 0.90 ERA in three starts.
The Bombers’ record in Tanaka’s starts by year: 14-6 (2014), 15-9 (2015), 23-8 (2016), 16-14 (2017)
“I think when things were not going my way and I really wasn’t able to get out from under that frustration,” Tanaka said Wednesday. “I think my mind was geared a bit more toward negativity. That was pretty much the problem. I kept on grinding and fighting through it, to change that negative to a positive.”
Tanaka elected to opt into the final three years and $67 million remaining on his contract rather than test the free-agent market.
“The reason why I wanted to come back to New York was to be a part of this team, fight with this team to capture a world championship,” Tanaka said.
It’s also a wise financial decision in the flat market for Tanaka, who has been pitching with a partial ACL tear and coming off a down year. If he opted out, the Bombers were prepared to let him walk.
After not getting the likes of Shohei Ohtani, Gerrit Cole and Yu Darvish in free agency/trade, the Yankees need Tanaka to be better in a rotation that for now includes Luis Severino, CC Sabathia, Sonny Gray and Jordan Montgomery.
Boone wouldn’t commit to naming Dellin Betances as his setup man for 2018. Betances, a four-time All-Star, lost that job last season after struggling with control and walks. The Bombers have a loaded power bullpen that also features Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Chad Green and Adam Warren.
“Those are conversations that we’ve already had,” Boone said. “We have thoughts about how we want to use guys. We’ll expect flexibility out of most of our guys, but I think the one exciting thing about our bullpen obviously is (we have) a lot of elite caliber bullpen pieces and guys that can get both handed-(hitters) out.” … Boone said both Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton will take reps in left before spring games get underway. Boone said it’s a possibility Brett Gardner would patrol left in home games, with Judge or Stanton doing so in ballparks with less room in left. … Boone on wanting Judge to cut down on his strikeouts: “The bottom line is when he controls the strike zone, he’s as deadly as anyone in the game.”