NEW YORK -- Asked to evaluate his performance through his first five big league starts, Masahiro Tanaka smirked in front of his locker on Friday, wiggling his right hand.
"So-so," Tanaka said in English.
The Yankees would beg to differ, especially considering the current state of their rotation. Tanaka is 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA heading into his sixth start, on Saturday against the Rays, making him a pillar of what suddenly seems to be an uncertain group.
"I think he expects an awful lot from himself," manager Joe Girardi said. "I think he set a high standard for himself last year, and I don't know if he's comparing it to that. He expects a lot from himself, and I think it's what really pushes him to be great."
Tanaka, 25, went 24-0 last season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, and his talents have translated well to the Majors thus far. Fueled by a world-class splitter, he has already compiled 46 strikeouts, setting a record for any Yankees pitcher through his first five career starts.
"I'm not satisfied with how I've pitched," Tanaka said through an interpreter. "I've given up runs, particularly early in the game. That part kind of bothers me. There are other parts as well. But that's one thing that has bothered me."
Girardi has been impressed by Tanaka's ability to make in-game adjustments, giving the Yankees a chance to win regardless of the quality of his stuff on any given day.
"I think it just comes with experience," Tanaka said. "Since becoming a pro, I've pitched in over 1,000 innings. Obviously, Day 1 up to now, I feel that I'm able to adjust myself way better in the games compared to, say, my first year and second year."