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Masahiro Tanaka makes positive impression again

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees throws during a

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees throws during a spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Field on March 6, 2014 in Clearwater, Fla. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Carlson

CLEARWATER, Fla. - On Wednesday, Masahiro Tanaka characterized his upcoming outing as "important.''

It would be his first game since last Saturday, a relief appearance in which he threw an impressive two scoreless innings. But most of the Phillies' regulars did not make the trip to Steinbrenner Field in Tampa for that game.

Pretty much all of them were present Thursday at Bright House Field, though, and Tanaka -- except for one pitch -- again impressed both teams and the scouts in attendance in the Yankees' 4-3 victory.

"He looked great,'' said Mark Teixeira, who went 0-for-3 in his first game action since June 15. "To me, that's one of the marks of a strikeout pitcher, when you see guys just really getting fooled on pitches, and there were a bunch of swings and misses today.''

Said Phillies rightfielder Marlon Byrd: "All in all, his location -- amazing -- good stuff. It's going to be exciting watching him.''

Tanaka started the game and allowed one run, two hits and no walks in three innings. He struck out one, getting Chase Utley swinging on an 0-and-2 splitter to end the first inning. Freddy Galvis homered on a 3-and-1 fastball in the third after Tanaka fell behind 2-and-0.

"I feel that was a result of me not being able to get first strikes,'' Tanaka said through his interpreter. "I felt I wasn't at the top of my game going on to the mound today. But overall, including the results and everything, I feel I did OK.''

Opposing team scouts thought it was even better than that. Though Tanaka bounced several of his splitters, one talent evaluator thought the 25-year-old was better Thursday than he had been Saturday.

"Better strike command and control from the last outing,'' the scout said. "Located fastball well and can dial it up when he wants.''

Pitching coach Larry Rothschild thought it was just fine, especially considering the disruption in Tanaka's routine.

The Yankees left Tampa for the 40-minute trip to Clearwater in a driving rainstorm and arrived here accompanied by blowing sheets of rain and their iPhones alerting them to a tornado warning. The game started after a delay of nearly 11/2 hours.

"I thought he handled it very well,'' Rothschild said. "The schedule changed on him a little bit, so it was good to see. He threw the ball very well.''

Tanaka, whose fastball averaged 92 mph and peaked at 94, according to one scout, needed 11 pitches to retire the Phillies in order in the first.

In the second, he got Ryan Howard on a grounder to second and allowed a double on a 1-and-2 pitch to Byrd. He got out of the inning when Domonic Brown grounded to first and Carlos Ruiz flied to right.

John Mayberry Jr. grounded to second to start the third and, after getting ahead 2-and-0, Reid Brignac grounded sharply to second for the second out. Tanaka fell behind Galvis 2-and-0 before the shortstop hammered a 3-and-1 four-seam fastball, clearing the grassy berm beyond the rightfield wall and tying the score at 1-1. Kevin Frandsen grounded softly to second to end the inning.

Tanaka wasn't pleased with the homer, but Rothschild saw it differently.

"He got behind and just made a bad pitch and he hit it out of the park,'' Rothschild said. "But this time of year, I don't worry as much about that because he was in his third inning, [facing] his last hitter, and I think he didn't want to walk him. It kind of changed how he approached him, but he went after him, and you should at that point in the game.''

Though they put plenty of balls in play, the Phillies didn't sound like a team eager to face Tanaka again.

"I was talking to the other guys. He's got really good control of every pitch,'' Howard said. "It looks like he puts it where he wants to. His split-finger is going to be the force to be reckoned with. Guys are going to have to make adjustments for it.''

With David Lennon

New York Sports