Alex Rodriguez singles in first at-bat in return from season-long drug suspension

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TAMPA, Florida — Alex Rodriguez returned to the New York Yankees after an absence of more than 17 months, lining a single into short left field in his first at-bat and going 1 for 2 with a walk in a 3-1 spring-training loss to the Philadelphia Phillies on Wednesday.

Greeted by a 10-second mix of boos and cheers from the crowd of 9,673 as he stepped into the batter's box for his first game following a one-year drug suspension, Rodriguez was wearing the Yankees' white uniform with pinstripes for the team's exhibition season home opener rather than the usual dark blue jersey used in exhibition games.

"Once you hit rock bottom, any time you hear a few cheers these days is a pleasant surprise," he said.

Rodriguez swung at the first four of 10 pitches he saw in three plate appearances. Batting second as New York's designated hitter, he swung past a pair of 91 mph pitches from Philadelphia's Kevin Slowey in the first inning.

"I felt like I was swinging under water," he said. "I was like, man, it's been a long time."

He lined a soft single to left on an 89 mph 0-2 offering that was over the plate. That drew cheers from fans at Steinbrenner Field on a sunny afternoon with a temperature in the low 80s.

"It's probably the first spring training game in a long time that he's been a little anxious," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Rodriguez has had success against Slowey, going 4 for 9 during the regular season with two doubles and a home run.

When Rodriguez came up again in the third, he grounded a 96 mph fastball from reliever Paul Clemens to shortstop for an inning-ending forceout. He walked on a full count in the sixth against Ethan Martin, loading the bases with no outs and the Yankees trailing 2-0.

He has a little more than a month to show he should be in the lineup when the Yankees open their season at home against Toronto on April 6.

"It's going to take two or three weeks for me to kind of get a gauge where I am," Rodriguez said.

There appeared to be few fans wearing shirts with Rodriguez's No. 13; there was a scattering of spectators with the No. 2 of Derek Jeter, the Yankees captain who retired at the end of last season.

Rodriguez, who turns 40 in July, admitted in 2009 that he used performance-enhancing drugs while with Texas from 2001-03. He served his suspension for violations of baseball's drug agreement and labor contract and apologized to the Yankees, its management and fans, but declined to publicly discuss details of his conduct. The three-time AL MVP is owed $61 million by the Yankees for the final three seasons of his contract.

He has lost his third base job and is competing for at-bats at DH and as a backup at third and first base. Girardi said Rodriguez will play again Friday night, probably as a DH but possibly in the field.

"This is as much fun as I've had in a long time in spring training," he said.

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