NEW YORK -- The Cubs saw immense potential in Japanese free-agent starter Masahiro Tanaka this offseason, and they were strong pursuers until he decided to sign with the Yankees.
That led to a firsthand look at Tanaka in action as visitors in the Bronx on Wednesday, when the 25-year-old right-hander affirmed the Cubs' projections for him against Major League pitching.
Tanaka dominated the Cubs in a 3-0 victory in the first game of a day-night doubleheader -- firing eight scoreless innings while striking out 10 and allowing two hits and one walk, before Shawn Kelley pitched the ninth inning for his fourth save.
Both of Chicago's hits off Tanaka were bunt singles -- the first, by Junior Lake, was such a close play at first that it required a replay challenge to be overturned after initially being ruled an out, and the second, by Anthony Rizzo, beat an exaggerated infield shift.
"He threw well," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "His split had tremendous dive. He can elevate to change your eye level. He can work both sides of the plate."
Tanaka's split-fingered fastball was especially devastating.
"He'll throw any pitch at any time," right fielder Nate Schierholtz said, "and obviously we don't see too many splits anymore, so the first couple splits we see from him look a lot like his fastball."
Even when the Cubs recognized the splitter, they weren't always sure where the pitch was headed.
"It's good, because it doesn't necessarily do the same thing every time," said Chicago center fielder Justin Ruggiano, who walked once and struck out twice. "I saw one that fell out of the zone downward and then I saw one that kind of went side to side. When he's got that going, it's tough."
The Cubs struggled to mount much of a rally, and they did not put multiple runners on base in the same inning. The closest they came to a run-scoring threat occurred in the seventh. Rizzo bunted to a vacant third-base position for a single, and then Schierholtz smacked a grounder up the middle that deflected off Tanaka's glove to shortstop Dean Anna, who threw to first. Umpire Manny Gonzalez called Schierholtz out and the call was ruled to stand after a review.
"I thought it was a tie," Schierholtz said. "I think that they probably didn't want to overturn it, because it's one of those things, it's too close. ... Just frustrating, obviously. You watch the video and it's so close. It was a big play."
Had Schierholtz been safe, the Cubs would have had runners on first and second with no outs, with Starlin Castro batting as the potential tying run.
Chicago's bottom of the order had particular difficulty with Tanaka's arsenal, as Luis Valbuena, Mike Olt and John Baker went a combined 0-for-9 with six strikeouts. Tanaka joined the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg and the Reds' Tony Cingrani as the only pitchers with at least eight strikeouts in each of their first three big league starts, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
Cubs starter Jason Hammel turned in a quality start of his own, allowing just three runs on five hits and three walks in seven innings, with five strikeouts. Hammel got better as he got deeper into his outing -- his two 1-2-3 innings came in his final two innings of work -- and he prevented the Yankees from hanging any crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
"Hammy kept us in the ballgame," Renteria said. "He struggled a little bit with some command, I think, but all in all, [he] was trying to attack the zone and got us through seven."
New York touched him for a single run in three innings: Carlos Beltran hit a solo homer in the first inning; Brian McCann scored on a sacrifice fly from Anna in the fourth inning; and Brett Gardner scored after a leadoff double in the fifth.
Gardner's run scored came in unorthodox fashion -- he was on third base when Jacoby Ellsbury hit a dribbler in front of the plate. Ellsbury's bat, however, hit catcher Baker's glove for catcher's interference. New York manager Joe Girardi chose to accept the result of the play on the field, so Ellsbury's run-scoring groundout was able to stand.
Tanaka was loosely linked with Hammel, along with many other free-agent starters, this offseason. The delay in the Rakuten Golden Eagles' decision to post Tanaka held up the pitching market. Hammel signed a one-year contract with the Cubs a week after the Yanks landed Tanaka.
"I thought I threw the ball pretty well," Hammel said, "but he was better today."
Joe Lemire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.