Even in perfection, Masahiro Tanaka always looking to improve

The righty was dominant Saturday but felt he could've been better
Masahiro Tanaka knows that hard work is key to improvement.|Art or Photo Credit: AP

TAMPA -- In the box score, Masahiro Tanaka was as perfect as a pitcher could be on Saturday. He needed just 45 pitches to retire all 12 batters he faced, striking out seven of those 12 -- six swinging -- and not seeing any of the five put in play leave the infield.
And yet, he wasn't quite happy with his outing.
"I felt the results were good, but overall, I didn't feel 100 percent," Tanaka said through interpreter Shingo Horie. "I was able to pitch well when I needed the pitches, but I think it could've been better overall."
On the surface, Tanaka threw a lot of curveballs for first-pitch strikes, got two of his strikeouts on back-door sliders, and had his entire repertoire working. But to him, the most positive thing Tanaka could say of his day was that his two-seam fastball was "okay," and the rest needed work.
"The two strikeouts I got were good (sliders), but there were some that kind of slipped out of my hands, so there needs to be some adjustments made as well," he said. "And my two-seamer, I think the command could be better; the movement on it is what you want, but the command could be better."
The numbers say that so far this spring, Tanaka has pitched nine innings and not allowed a baserunner, striking out 13 of the 27 he has faced - but even that is a line the righty can mitigate, too.
"Obviously you want the results, but you can't just look at that," he said. "Because we have the WBC…not to downgrade anybody, but the batters you face may be a little different, so in that regard I think it's not really safe to just look at the results."
Pitchers are their own harshest critics, but if you ask manager Joe Girardi, all of those thoughts just represent what kind of perfectionist Tanaka is.
"He expects a lot from himself, so that's great. You don't ever want guys to be comfortable," Girardi said. "You want guys always working on getting better, and that's what he does."
If what the world seen this spring is not Tanaka at his best, well, don't tell Girardi, because he'll take it. He'd love to get a facsimile or better of 2016 - at least 200 innings and an ERA of around 3.00 - out of his ace as well, and that's something Tanaka has said he wants, too.
So what's it going to take? A lot more work, of course.
"As a player, you always want to be better, so you want to make it a reality (to make each season better than the last)," Tanaka said. "To do that, I just have to rack up the innings this spring, which also means upping the number of pitches, and keep myself healthy. If I can do that, I'll be in good shape."
"I think each year he's gone up (in innings pitched)," Girardi added, "so I can't think of any reason why he can't break through that 200-inning plateau, and we'll see where it ends up from there."