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Yankees treat Masahiro Tanaka like a star; they need him to pitch like one

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Masahiro Tanaka started his major league career 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA. But he's been more like a No. 2 or even a No. 3 starter since. Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- The better you perform, the better you are treated. That is a fact of life in Hollywood, on Wall Street, in the Bronx and in all places in between. If you are a star, handlers will go out of their way to make sure there are only blue M&Ms in your dressing room candy dish.

The Yankees are treating Masahiro Tanaka like a star. For them to come back and overtake the Toronto Blue Jays for the coveted AL East crown, though, he needs to pitch like one.

The Yankees have set their rotation so Tanaka always pitches on five days' rest, instead of the customary four. So far, they have not gotten enough bang for their 175 million bucks.

In his past five starts, Tanaka had one truly impressive, worth-every-penny outing, when he threw all nine innings in a 4-1 win over the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre a little less than two weeks ago. In his other four starts, Tanaka has thrown only six innings in each, which is one or two too few considering how the Yankees are pampering him.

Tanaka may be just a No. 2 or 3 starter, which we have written before. That is not bad, but a team cannot really build around a No. 3 while making special concessions to his workload.

Tanaka, who starts against the Braves on Friday night, is supposed to be a guy who can pitch the Yankees to a World Series. Though he may be good in the postseason, it is hard to imagine him being the workhorse CC Sabathia was during the Yankees' 2009 run.

Overall, Tanaka is 9-6 with a 3.61 ERA -- not bad, but not great. Of more concern: Since beginning his major league career 11-1 with a 1.99 ERA in his first 14 starts, Tanaka is 11-10 with a 3.91 ERA in his last 24 starts.

He was a Cy Young candidate -- and he might regain that form again. But right now he has looked more like the No. 3 starter that Yankees GM Brian Cashman first projected him to be.

When the Yankees scouted Tanaka, they were aware of the Japanese pitching regimen of having starters go just once per week. Because of Tanaka’s talent, it did not give them pause.

“It was not something that would prevent him having success over here,” Cashman said Thursday, recalling the Yankees’ thought process.

Tanaka, still just 26, said he doesn’t think he needs the extra day of rest each time out, even though the only time he has pitched on the normal four days, he ended up with a strained forearm, tendinitis in his wrist and a stint on the DL. Tanaka said he is willing to pitch whenever he is asked.

“It’s up to the team,” Tanaka said.

The Yankees have decided Tanaka should pitch with extra rest. Joe Girardi always tries to paint that plan by saying it's about the entire staff -- and, of course, the rest of the Yankees' starters can possibly benefit, too. But the Yankees’ new rules of pitching engagement are mainly about Tanaka.

He needs to show he deserves the star treatment.