YANKEES 7, ASTROS 4
On the final day of April, a day in which the Yankees placed their ninth player on the disabled list, they did pretty much what they have been doing most of the month: Finding a way to win.
Hiroki Kuroda recovered from a shaky first three innings to complete the best April of his career and Travis Hafner continued his hot month with three RBI singles as New York downed Houston on Tuesday in front of a paid crowd of 34,401 at Yankee Stadium.
Kuroda (4-1) surrendered three hits and four walks in throwing 67 pitches in the first three innings but he stranded all seven base-runners. With Kuroda struggling with his command, pitching coach Larry Rothschild suggested the 38-year-old right-hander try pitching only from the stretch.
Over the next four innings, Kuroda gave up only a leadoff single by Jose Altuve in the fifth inning. Kuroda retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced to earn the victory. He shut out the Astros on four hits and four walks while striking out a season-high eight batters.
Meanwhile, the Yankees wasted no time getting to Astros right-hander Philip Humber (0-6).
Brett Gardner drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a infield single off the bat of Ichiro Suzuki. One out later Hafner delivered the first of his three run-scoring singles, a line drive to the opposite field that left-fielder Brandon Barners trapped in his glove to allow Gardner to score.
Hafner delivered again in the third inning after Suzuki reached first on a wild pitch on a swinging third strike. Suzuki advanced to second on a stolen base and scored on Hafner’s single up the middle against an exaggerated Astros’ shift on the left-handed slugger.
The Yankees added a pair of runs in the fifth after back-to-back one-out singles by Suzuki and Robinson Cano. After Humber uncorked his second of his three wild pitches of the night, Hafner was walked intentionally and Gardner scored when Brennan Boesch beat out a potential inning-ending double play.
Jayson Nix followed with an RBI single to score Cano.
Humber was touched for four runs on nine hits and two walks while he fanned two in six innings.
The Astros cut the lead in half against reliever David Robertson in the eighth inning when Carlos Pena drew a two-out walk and Chris Carter followed with an opposite field two-run home run to right-center.
The Yankees answered in the bottom of the inning when Lyle Overbay led off the inning with his third home run of the season off reliever Brad Peacock. Eduardo Nunez followed with his third hit of the game – a double to center – and Chris Stewart slapped an RBI single up the middle to chase Peacock.
After one out, Suzuki singled to right off reliever Rhiner Cruz and with two out Hafner closed out the scoring on a bloop single to the opposite field in left that scored Stewart.
Unfortunately for the Yankees, Shawn Kelley could not hold the team’s five-run cushion in the ninth.
With two out and a Marwin Gonzalez on first, Robbie Grossman singled to right-center and Altuve followed a two-run double.
Manager Joe Girardi replaced Kelley with Mariano Rivera and Rivera struck out Jason Castro swinging to earn his 10th save in 10 chances.
The Yankees have now won five of their last six games and they completed April with a 16-10 record, which puts them in second place in the American League East. The Astros fell to 8-19.
- Give Kuroda a lot of credit for shutting down the Astros despite the fact he did not initially have his best stuff. With his seven shutout innings, Kuroda lowered his season ERA to 2.25 and he is tied with CC Sabathia for the team lead in victories with four. His career ERA of 3.38 is the lowest of any Japanese pitcher in history.
- Hafner finished the month with a flourish. With his 3-for-4 night, Hafner is hitting .318 with six home runs and 17 RBIs. His three-RBI game drew him into a tie with Cano for the team lead in RBIs. That is not bad for a player who has not played a full major-league season since 2007. The Yankees have needed his power with so many players injured and Hafner has delivered.
- Two players who have been scuffling most of the month are suddenly getting hot. Suzuki was 3-for-5 and scored two runs. In his last seven games, Suzuki is 11-for-27 (.407) with three runs scored and two RBIs. His hot streak has raised his batting average to .268. Meanwhile, Nunez went 3-for-4 with two doubles and run scored. Since hitting coach Kevin Long tweaked his batting stance, Nunez is 5-for-14 (.357), which has raised his season average to .203.
- The usually reliable Robertson let the Astros back into the contest by giving up the two-run home run to Carter. Robertson had a uncharacteristically poor month in which he was touched for five runs on nine hits and two walks in 10 2/3 innings over 11 games. His 4.22 ERA is a product of giving up two homers.
- Kelley may have an excellent slider but he is really having trouble getting ahead in counts to use it. He has surrendered nine runs on 12 hits (four them home runs) and four walks in 10 1/3 innings. He has been scored upon in four of his eight appearances and he soon may be punching his own ticket to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
- In his three at-bats in the game, Boesch came up to the plate with six runners on base and he managed to score just one of them. He bounced into an inning-ending double play in the first and then two fielders’ choices. He did drive in a run by beating out a double-play relay in the fifth. The lefty swinging Boesch was 0-for-3 and he is now batting .200 on the season. He is hitting just .167 against righties and .273 against lefties, which is very odd.
The Yankees placed corner infielder Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list on Tuesday after an MRI indicated a lumbar spine sprain. He is the ninth player the Yankees have placed on the DL. Infielder Corban Joseph was recalled from Scranton to take Youkilis’ spot on the roster. Youkilis had missed six games before playing in a game on Saturday. However, Youkilis re-aggravated his back injury in the game and now he can’t be activated until May 13. General manager Brian Cashman and Girardi both admitted playing Youkilis on Saturday was a big mistake. The 34-year-old veteran was hitting .266 with two homers and seven RBIs in 17 games. Joseph, 24, was hitting .273 with four home runs and nine RBIs in 22 games. . . . Injured outfielder Curtis Granderson may soon progress to playing in some minor-league rehab games. Granderson has been sidelined with a fractured right forearm suffered in his first at-bat of spring training on Feb. 24. Meanwhile, first baseman Mark Teixeira has not advanced past taking some dry swings and his return is looking more likely in June. Teixeira is on the disabled list with a partially torn sheath in his right wrist.
The Yankees can take the three-game series against Houston with a victory in the rubber game on Wednesday.
Right-hander David Phelps (1-1, 5.29 ERA) will make his first start of the season as a replacement for injured right-hander Ivan Nova. Phelps, 26, was brilliant in four innings of relief after Nova left Friday’s game with an inflamed right triceps. Phelps gave up one run and struck out a career-high nine. Phelps has never faced the Astros.
The Astros will start veteran left-hander Erik Bedard (0-2, 7.98 ERA). Bedard has not pitched more than four innings in any of his four starts. He has allowed 13 runs in 7 1/3 innings over his last three starts. He is 4-5 with a 4.32 ERA lifetime against the Yankees.
Game-time will be 7:05 p.m. EDT and the game will be telecast by the YES Network.