Yankees tab Tanaka as the starter for Game 1 of the ALCS
"Obviously it's the first game of the series, which is an important game, so we want to go in there and take this first game of the series," Tanaka said Thursday when asked about getting the Game 1 start.
"I have a ton of confidence in him. When you think about the way he's been pitching lately, you think about him having the possibility of making two starts in a series," manager Joe Girardi added. "If I wait until Game 3, his next start would be Game 7, and you don't know if you're going to get there, so one way of guaranteeing him is 1 and 5. We loved what he did his last start, so that's why we chose to do it."
Tanaka did not pitch well in his lone outing against Houston this year, allowing eight runs over 1 2/3 innings on Derek Jeter Day, but he ended 2017 on a roll, tossing seven shutout innings and striking out 15 against Toronto on September 29 ahead of his gem in the ALDS.
"I look at his velocity, the difference between his fastball and his split, and the sharpness of the split and slide," Girardi said of Tanaka. "Those are the two things that I look at when he's on his A-game."
In the rotation, Tanaka will be followed by Luis Severino in Game 2, CC Sabathia in Game 3, and Sonny Gray in Game 4. Severino and Sabathia will be on four days rest after pitching Games 4 and 5 of the ALDS, respectively, while Gray's Game 4 assignment means he will have 12 days between his ALDS Game 1 start and his next outing.
"We just talked about who is throwing well, how the stuff kind of sets up, and we decided to go that way," Girardi said. "You can look at splits, but (Houston) hits right-handers basically the same as they hit left-handers, so we decided that we would go this way just on what's been going on the last month and the playoffs so far and go from there."
Gray did throw a three-inning simulated game at Minute Maid Park on Thursday, and two of the hitters he faced were Ronald Torreyes, who got just one plate appearance in Game 2 of the ALDS, and Matt Holliday, who does not have a plate appearance so far this postseason.
Girardi did intimate, though, that Holliday could be a factor in the ALCS. The Astros will start lefties Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander in Games 1 and 2, and the duo who held down the DH spot in the first six postseason games, lefty Jacoby Ellsbury and switch-hitter Chase Headley, are a combined 0-for-20 with three walks in October.
"Stay tuned," Girardi simply said when asked if Holliday may have a role. "We're going to look at (the DH spot) on a daily basis, and see what we think is the best thing to do."