NEW YORK — Cold, shorter rest, a bigger ball. No matter the challenges, Masahiro Tanaka is making a smooth transition from Japan to the major leagues for one major reason: his split-fingered fastball.
Tanaka allowed two bunt hits in eight dominant innings on a frigid Wednesday, Carlos Beltran homered for the third straight game and New York welcomed the Chicago Cubs to the current Yankee Stadium with a 3-0 victory in the opener of a day-night doubleheader.
“That split is not something you want to sit on. It’s not something you’re going to be able to handle,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “But, as it was coming out of the hand, as the guys were coming in, they were saying, ‘Gosh, it looks like a fastball. It ends up diving.’”
And it makes batters look silly.
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The 25-year-old Japanese right-hander struck out 10 for his second straight start, this time while wearing three-quarter sleeves on a 43-degree day that felt much colder because of a brisk wind. Tanaka (2-0) gave up a replay-aided hit to Junior Lake in the second inning, and Anthony Rizzo pushed a bunt toward a vacated third base with a shifted infield leading off the seventh.
Tanaka has 28 strikeouts in 22 innings, the most strikeouts for a Yankees pitcher in his first three career starts, according to the Yankees via the Elias Sports Bureau.
Tanaka threw 107 pitches, and Shawn Kelley allowed a single to Rizzo as he finished the three-hitter for his fourth save.
“It was cold out there and I did feel it, but I was able to control myself, control the grip and manage myself to pitch the way I did today,” Tanaka said.
• In a statement issued by his agent Wednesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig said he won’t be saying anything about the recent Los Angeles Magazine article detailing his escape from Cuba.
“I’m aware of the recent articles and new accounts. I understand that people are curious and have questions, but I will have no comment on this subject. I’m represented on this matter, and I’m only focused on being a productive teammate and helping the Dodgers win games.”
Adam Katz, Puig’s agent, released the statement.
Puig has never talked publicly about how he left Cuba.
• The New York Yankees honored Nelson Mandela during their rain-delayed celebration of the legacy of Jackie Robinson, another icon of social change.
The grandson of South Africa’s first black president, Zondwa Mandela, and Robinson’s widow, Rachel, helped unveil a plaque commemorating Mandela’s 1990 speech at the old Yankee Stadium. It hangs next to the tribute to Jackie Robinson in Monument Park beyond center field at the current ballpark.
• Boston first baseman Mike Napoli missed Wednesday’s game against the Chicago White Sox because of a dislocated ring finger on his left hand. Napoli was injured during a headfirst slide Tuesday.