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Masahiro Tanaka throws three-hit shutout as Yankees beat Rays

He retires first 12 batters and strikes out nine.

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees shut out the

Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees shut out the Rays on three hits Tuesday night at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — On a night the Yankees were poised to add to an area of strength, Masahiro Tanaka showed things might not be quite so dire in the rotation, which has been a clear area of need.

Tanaka retired his first 12 hitters and threw his sixth career complete game in a 4-0 victory over the Rays Tuesday night at Tropicana Field. Late Tuesday the Yankees were closing in on a deal for Orioles closer Zach Britton but remain in the market for starting pitching.

Though it was only one start, Tanaka, featuring a killer splitter, allowed three hits and struck out nine to match a season high. It was the continuation of signs Tanaka might be getting on a roll, terrific news for a rotation needing a boost.

“It came at a really good time for us,” Aaron Boone said.

It was a needed victory for the Yankees (64-35), who moved within five games of the Red Sox in the AL East.

Tanaka (8-2) lowered his ERA to 4.09, and his numbers were 5-0, 3.98 in his previous 11 starts. Tanaka has allowed a team-high 18 homers in 15 starts, including at least one in each of his previous eight, a streak he happily ended.

“It’s satisfying to go nine innings,” Tanaka said through his translator. “But we have a lot more games to play. I’ll allow myself to celebrate tonight and then back to business tomorrow.”

The Yankees scored in the first against Yonny Chirinos (0-2) on a Didi Gregorius groundout that brought in Brett Gardner, who led off with a single.

Austin Romine, the starting catcher again with Gary Sanchez’s return to the DL, drove in two runs, on a groundout in the fifth and a sacrifice fly in the seventh. Neil Walker’s single in the ninth made it 4-0.

“Just ran into a dude,” Rays rookie leftfielder Jake Bauers said of Tanaka, “who had an unreal night.”

Notes & quotes: Brandon Drury, who started at second base, left the game in the fifth inning with a left hand contusion after being hit by a pitch . . . Gleyber Torres (right hip strain), after playing three rehab games over the last four days with High-A Tampa, is scheduled to be activated from the DL for Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Rays . . . Aaron Hicks, who slid awkwardly into second on Monday’s game-ending play, was “banged up,” Boone said, and sat out Tuesday. He’s expected to play Wednesday . . . To replace Sanchez on the roster, Kyle Higashioka was recalled from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to serve as Romine’s backup . . . The MLB Players Alumni Association named Romine as the winner of the Yankees Heart and Hustle Award.

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