ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Five years after an elbow injury denied Masahiro Tanaka a chance to pitch in the All-Star Game as a rookie, the right-hander is getting a second chance.
Tanaka on Saturday was named as a replacement for Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman, who was scratched with a left-shoulder issue.
In 2014, Tanaka not only was on his way to AL Rookie of the Year on July 8 with a 12-4 record, 2.51 ERA and 135 strikeouts to 19 walks in 129 ¹/₃ innings, but also he was a strong candidate for the AL Cy Young award — until he suffered a small tear in his ulnar collateral ligament, which was not operated on.
This year, Tanaka doesn’t have anywhere near those numbers, but is the fifth Yankee going to Cleveland for Tuesday night’s event. He joins teammates DJ LeMahieu and Gary Sanchez, who were voted in as starters, and Aroldis Chapman, who was chosen with the pitchers, and Gleyber Torres, who needed two injuries to get on the team.
The news, which was delivered Saturday morning, caught Tanaka off guard.
“I think it was similar to everybody else’s, pretty surprised,’’ said Tanaka, who is 5-5 with a 3.86 ERA in 18 starts and has struck out 90 in 105 innings while dealing with his signature pitch, a splitter, coming and going.
Being in Cleveland for MLB’s midsummer showcase never entered Tanaka’s mind. He planned to spend the four-day break relaxing with his family.
Now, there is a chance he will pitch in his first All-Star Game in the United States.
“I was surprised because I never thought I would be selected,’’ said Tanaka, who bounced back from a beating administered by the Red Sox in London last weekend to throw 6 ¹/₃ innings and give up four runs Friday night in the Yankees’ 8-4, 11-inning victory over the Rays at Tropicana Field. “You look at your stats and things like that because I was already making plans for what to do for the All-Star break, so that was why I was surprised.’’
While translator Shingo Horie fielded questions in English standing next to Tanaka on the Tropicana Field carpet, the right-hander offered a smile of accomplishment.
“Obviously, I am very happy. In 2014 I was selected, but things didn’t turn out the way I wanted to and I wasn’t able to go there,’’ Tanaka said. “This time around, I actually get to go there and be part of the celebration. All in all I am very happy about it.’’
Tanaka takes his responsibilities as a big league pitcher very seriously and understands he represents Japan, a country that adores baseball. So it wasn’t a surprise Tanaka is looking forward to taking the mound Tuesday night.
“It would be a great thing if I can actually pitch in the game,’’ Tanaka said. “When you look at your baseball career, it will be something I can be proud of.’’
As for how the first half of this season has unfolded for Tanaka, he could have done without giving up six runs and four hits in two-thirds of an inning against the Red Sox on June 29, when he failed to hold a 6-0 first-inning lead.
He does, however, view his 18 starts in a somewhat positive light.
“Compared to the last couple of years I think I did a little better, just eating up innings and going a little bit deeper into games,’’ said Tanaka, who leads the Yankees in innings pitched. “As for the quality of the pitches, I think it could be better.’’