MOOSIC — It’s not uncommon for a big-league pitcher to come down to Triple-A and initially struggle to adjust to the pitch clock.
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders saw it firsthand on June 20 against Lehigh Valley when former Philadelphia Phillies closer Hector Neris walked Mark Payton after breaking the time rule and receiving an automatic ball.
With Masahiro Tanaka making a rehab start for the RailRiders on Wednesday night against the Buffalo Bisons, the New York Yankees starting pitcher had to adjust as well.
It wasn’t so easy at first. Tanaka gave up a two-run home run in the first inning before dialing it in to finish with five strong innings in what was a no-decision, as the RailRiders (43-40) came back to sink Buffalo (38-40), 4-2.
“I think it’s the minor league rule that you have to pitch within a certain time limit,” Tanaka said through a translator. “I wasn’t really used to that, but, obviously, I can’t make an excuse of that. I did give up that home run, but after the first inning I thought to myself that I really needed to pick up the pace and attack quickly. I guess that’s why it worked out afterward.”
Tanaka admits when he threw a poor pitch to Richard Urena that the Buffalo shortstop hit into the outfield stands, the pitch clock did play a factor.
The right-hander used his time in the dugout in the bottom of the first inning to re-evaluate his approach. When Tanaka came out to pitch the second inning, he looked like a different pitcher.
The 29-year-old retired 15 of the final 16 batters he faced, and picked up all of his four strikeouts from the second inning on.
“No, I mean, it was a bad pitch. The batter got a good part of the bat on the ball,” Tanaka said. “The first inning, I was trying to adjust to that time clock. So just looking at that particular inning, I was in kind of a rush mode in that kind of inning.”
Tanaka made the most of his 70-pitch or five-inning count.
The 2014 American League All-Star induced five groundball outs and 12 of the 49 strikes he threw were looking. While Takana admits there’s still room for improvement, he was pleased with the outing as a whole. Especially considering he had no setbacks with his hamstrings and was able to “throw the ball with force.”
Tanaka pitched five innings of two-run baseball, gave up just three hits and struck out four batters, throwing 69 pitches.
“I think it was good to just be able to go out there and pitch five solid innings,” Tanaka said. “As far as the quality of pitches go, I think it could be better. I feel there’s a little bit of rust, but, yeah, overall it was good to go five innings.
“It’s all good, so yeah, I’m ready to get back into the rotation.”
Trailing 2-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the RailRiders’ bats awoke to score four runs and seal the comeback win.
Ryan McBroom and Rey Navarro started off the inning with back-to-back singles. After a Bruce Caldwell strikeout, Zack Zehner and Francisco Diaz collected back-to-back RBI singles to center field to tie the game, 2-2.
Tyler Wade walked to the plate with two outs and two runners in scoring position and a chance to break the game open. Wade had already faced Bisons reliever Jose Fernandez earlier in the game — a sixth-inning flyout to left — and stepped up to the plate knowing that the southpaw would attack him.
Wade wasn’t going to miss his pitch this time.
“McBroom with the single up the middle and then the guy got a little tired and lost his command a little and we made him work,” Wade said. “We were getting deep into counts and getting ourselves into really good counts, too. Hitting’s contagious.”
Between Tanaka’s crisp start and the bullpen, which allowed one baserunner over the minimum, and the RailRiders’ timely offense, they were able to pull off the comeback.
Wednesday’s win over Buffalo was their third straight and 10 of their last 14. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is four-and-a-half games back of first-place Lehigh Valley heading into Thursday’s series finale against the Bisons.
“(Tanaka) shut them down and then our bullpen has just been really good lately,” RailRiders manager Bobby Mitchell said. “All of our pitching has been really good, I think, lately and that’s why we’re winning games. At least it gives us a chance. We don’t score until, what, the seventh? But the pitching keeps us in the game. We always feel like we have a shot. That’s a combination of what winning teams need, really.”
1B Mike Ford (oblique) started his minor league rehab stint with Low-A Staten Island on Monday. Ford is 0-for-6 in two games. Mitchell said Ford is expected to play with Staten Island “probably into” the Triple-A All-Star break. … RHP Erik Swanson (groin) is expected to make at least one rehab start with Staten Island. He could pitch as soon as Thursday. … There is no new news on INF/OF Ronald Torreyes, who is on the restricted list and is away from a team to be with his family. … 1B Tyler Austin (back) is “feeling a lot better,” Mitchell said. Austin hit in the cage on Wednesday. The RailRiders plan to work him in slowly. … Yankees 2B Gleyber Torres was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a hip injury on Wednesday. Mitchell said there is no news regarding a roster move, yet.
RailRiders 4, Bisons 2
E: Fields (5); LOB: Bisons 3, RailRiders 5; 2B: Lopes (13), Frazier (14), Wade (16); HR: Urena (2); SB: Smith (8).
Buffalo`200`000`000 — 2
RailRiders`000`000`40x — 0
Fernandez (BS, 1)(L, 0-1)`1.2`6`4`3`0`2
Tarpley (W, 1-0)`2`1`0`0`0`3
Gallegos (S, 1)`2`1`0`0`0`1
Umpires: Brennan Miller, HP; Blake Carnahan, 1B; Ryan Additon, 2B; Shane Livensparger, 3B.
Time: 2:24 (0:11 delay); Attendance: 10,000.
Reach DJ Eberle at 570-991-6398 or on Twitter @ByDJEberle