SP Masahiro Tanaka made his Wrigley Field debut on Tuesday night. Unfortunately for Chicago Cubs fans, it was made several weeks later than previously hoped for and while also wearing a different uniform as well.
The Cubs continue to be linked with Tanaka in many ways as they were given the task of being the first team in the league to face the right-hander a second time this season. In a return meeting, Chicago was able to crack through the Tanaka wall and deal him his first career big-league loss, and first loss overall in 42 games.
Being able to watch Tanaka closely in person during the game was a treat. He is certainly an expert of his craft, and in an era where hard-throwing pitchers are the norm lighting up radar guns, Tanaka is not one of those. From what I saw, just a handful of pitches clocked in over 91 mph. Tanaka is the definition of a dart-thrower who relies on location and movement.
Because of the movement, it is easy to see why hitters are fooled at the plate. Some of the swings resemble kids trying to hit a wiffle ball with one of those yellow plastic bats. There are no loud pops off of the bat, and the catcher’s mitt gives off little pop as well. Tanaka’s approach is in a category by itself compared to aces like Jose Fernandez, Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander, who will challenge hitters with hard stuff.
However, like many rookies, more film on them eventually can be used as an advantage for the opposing team. Is there a potential flaw that could make Tanaka vulnerable?
With the soft sliders that Tanaka throws with movement, the approach for hitters could eventually become similar to when they’re facing a knuckleball thrower. It will be interesting to see how other teams will attack Tanaka when they begin to face him multiple times. The second time through the order, the Cubs were able to put good swings together and score some runs.
Led by Luis Valbuena and a surprising John Baker, Chicago squared some balls up, capitalized with runners in scoring position, and with timely hitting, scored the most runs against Tanaka thus far this season. Jason Hammel was also able to contain the New York Yankees‘ lineup for a second time this season as well.
With being able to execute a game plan against Tanaka, might the Cubs have just put the formula out there for the rest of the league? Facing Tanaka requires a different mindset. When they are able to square pitches up, teams need to cash in on the limited opportunities, much like when facing a knuckleballer. Teams will also still need to play a solid game as well, which the Cubs did.
It was arguably their most well-played game of the season. Somewhere, the Cubs’ front office just may be smiling a bit wider as the team became the first to solve Tanaka a second time around, and it will be added to the historical link between the two sides forever.
Nick Schaeflein is a Chicago Cubs writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ptchr2424 or add him to your network on Google.