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Tanaka sharp in first start of spring

AP, Kyodo

Masahiro Tanaka’s road to opening day is off to a promising start.

The right-hander tossed two scoreless innings in his first spring appearance, but the New York Yankees lost 6-5 to the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday.

Tanaka looked fine after having a procedure in October to remove a bone spur on his pitching elbow. He allowed two hits, walked one and struck out two.

“I’m pretty satisfied with how I pitched,” Tanaka said through a translator. “Just to see how I feel the next day is important. Mechanics is also a thing I’m aware of, and hitting my spots.”

The Yankees’ ace is 25-12 with a 3.16 ERA during his first two years in pinstripes. Both seasons were shortened by injuries.

“I do feel I can be back to that form because it feels better,” he said about his elbow.

Tanaka’s goal is to be ready to start New York’s opener against the Houston Astros on April 4.

“The idea is that he’s our No. 1 starter, but you’ve got to see how he does, where he is physically,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Andrew Knapp hit a three-run homer in a six-run sixth for Philadelphia.

“He’s got a great swing from both sides of the plate,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He looks like a hitter. He knows what he’s doing.”

Austin Romine had two doubles and three RBIs for the Yankees.

Charlie Morton allowed one run and one hit in 2⅓ innings in his first start for Philadelphia since being acquired from Pittsburgh.

In Surprise, Arizona, Hisashi Iwakuma kicked off his exhibition season with two perfect innings for the Seattle Mariners in a 7-3 win over the Texas Rangers.

Iwakuma faced a strong lineup of regulars from the defending American League West champions but served up four ground balls during his stint in which he got ahead in counts and was able to locate but did not strike out a batter.

“I was surprised to face their regulars right out of the chute,” Iwakuma said. “I was able to get good angles on my pitches and the ball moved well. I think you can say I earned passing marks.”

New teammate Norichika Aoki went 1-for-4 with an RBI, while former Fukuoka Softbank Hawks slugger Lee Dae-ho drew a walk in three trips to the plate and former Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagle Gaby Sanchez went 1-for-3 for the Mariners.

“I’m beginning to get my timing (at the plate),” Aoki said. “And it was nice to get a hit in the process.

“I felt a sense of nostalgia because it’s been years since I played defense behind a Japanese pitcher. He (Iwakuma) had a good rhythm and that made it easy for me.”

Utley gets ban dropped

New York AP

After all that, Chase Utley is safe.

The two-game suspension imposed on the Los Angeles Dodgers infielder after his hard takeout slide broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in last year’s playoffs has been dropped.

A person briefed on the decision told AP on Sunday that Major League Baseball and the players’ union reached an agreement that rescinded the ban. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no announcement.

Utley played in the Dodgers’ exhibition game against San Francisco, then said he would “talk tomorrow.”

Tejada said he wasn’t upset with the decision.

“No. I don’t care really,” he said at New York’s spring training complex. “I care about me. I’m healthy here. I’m happy here. I don’t care about what’s going to happen there.

“That’s the past. I’m all right here this year, healthy.”

Tejada said Utley didn’t contact him after the injury, which knocked him out of the World Series.

MLB and the union have since reworked the rule on slides to cover the sort of play that flipped Tejada and resulted in Utley’s penalty in Game 2 of the NL Division Series at Dodger Stadium.

In the past, late slides such as Utley’s had been a gray area — sometimes they were allowed by umpires and MLB, sometimes not. Under what some fans are calling the Chase Utley Rule, rolling blocks are now illegal.