by RANDY MILLER
OAKLAND, Calif. — Caution, you are entering a baseball No Spin Zone.
Yes, we know that’s fired Fox News political commentator Bill O’Reilly’s line.
We’re breaking it out again to spill some truth onto what’s going on withYankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who offered up yet another stinker of a start Saturday at Oakland Coliseum.
The Yankees badly needed Tanaka to go deep into this game because their bullpen’s been fried.
They badly needed him to be a stopper because a six-game winning streak has led into their longest losing streak of the season.
His first pitch left the park.
Given a second-inning lead, Tanaka gave up another homer.
Tied in the third, he gave up a third homer in a three-run inning.
By the fifth inning, the Yankees were into their bullpen on their way to a 5-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics.
Five runs over four innings from Tanaka and another Yankees loss?
This season has become a nightmare for Tanaka, who is the one weak link in a starting rotation that otherwise has been a lot better than expected.
This made it five losses in a row for the Yanks and three in three days to a last-place A’s ballclub that plays well at home but has no business being a game away from sweeping a four from a division leader that was baseball’s hottest just a few days ago.
Tanaka let them down yet again and has become a big, big problem for a club that perhaps could do great things this season if their old ace wasn’t giving the Yankees about what Andy Messersmith gave them in 1978, or for younger fans, what Luis Severino gave them as a starter last season.
The Yankees don’t want to admit this, but Tanaka may never be what he was even though he’s just 28.
His fastball isn’t what it was when he left Japan to join the Yankees in 2014, and his arm isn’t the same either because he’s been pitching with a partially torn UCL since September of ’14.
Tanaka was healthy enough and consistently very good last season going 14-4 with a 3.07 ERA that was third best in the league while working 199 2/3 innings.
This spring, he was unhittable pretty much from start to finish in the Grapefruit League. He looked ready to make a run for a Cy Young.
And then came Opening Day.
He stunk in a loss at Tampa Bay, allowing seven runs over 2 2/3 innings.
Since, he’s had outings in which he gave up eight runs over 1 2/3 innings, six runs in three innings, seven runs over 5 2/3, five in five and now five in four.
There have been a few very good nights, especially his three-hit shutout in Boston on April 27, but not enough for someone of his stature.
His problems Saturday were same old, same old.
“Mistakes,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It really comes down to it. A splitter that didn’t do what it was supposed to, a slider didn’t do what it was supposed to. And again it was the inconsistency in the mistakes that he made.”
Tanaka was right saying his three homers allowed were “unacceptable,” but he didn’t seem as dejected as you’d think a supposed ace with a 6.34 ERA and 21 homers allowed over 14 starts would be.
Tanaka even took a bit of a glass-half-full approach to his day because he pitched well enough to strike out 10 and walk just one.
“I felt like I was able to get a couple of strikeouts, which tells you that there’s some bite to the off-speed stuff, so I look at that as a positive,” the Japanese righty said through his translator.
Catcher Austin Romine went this direction, too, saying, “He made two mistakes on a split that didn’t split and a slider that hung up there, If you take that away, he pitched a pretty good game.”
Well, la-dee-da. Three homers allowed and giving up five runs total in just four innings of work is not a pretty good game … for any pitcher.
That first-pitch homer that Matt Joyce hit out in the A’s first trumps Tanaka finishing the inning with three strikeouts in a row.
And it doesn’t really matter how good Tanaka looked striking out the side in a third inning in which Oakland scored three runs on five hits.
“It’s just part of the game,” Girardi said. “You’re always going to have some guys on your club that are usually struggling a little bit. I believe in him. I’ve seen what he’s done the previous three years. We’ll just try to get him ready and get him going.”
They’ve been trying.
It’s not working.
Maybe this is just a really bad stretch that Tanaka is going through and he’ll figure out how to be consistent again.
Based on the Tanaka we’ve been seeing — his inconsistencies with his slider and splitter, his great number of mistake pitches, all the home runs opponents are hitting — the no spinning response would be this:
What you see might be what you get all season long.