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AP - Sports

The New York Yankees had to use three key relievers for the third time in four days in a series-opening loss to the Houston Astros.

With Michael Pineda as New York's next starter, that bullpen could be stretched again.

Pineda makes his first home start since April 16 on Wednesday night when the Yankees and Astros continue this three-game set.

New York (63-60) is clearly in desperate mode to stay in playoff contention, and Tuesday's 7-4 loss did not help matters. David Robertson, the fourth of five relievers in the game after Chris Capuano lasted 5 1-3 innings, served up a tiebreaking three-run homer to red-hot slugger Chris Carter in the ninth inning.

Robertson joined Shawn Kelley and Dellin Betances as relievers to pitch for the third straight game in a four-day span - something their manager is well aware of.

"Physically they're in pretty decent shape," manager Joe Girardi said about his bullpen. "Now we've had some guys who have worked three out of four and we might have to protect them tomorrow so we'll see."

Girardi's team has batted .197 while losing six of eight and is four games behind the final AL wild-card spot.

''We're not going to let one game get us down too much," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "I'm pretty sure we're still in the race. We've just got to score more runs and win more games."

Pineda (2-2, 1.82 ERA) returned last Wednesday when he gave up one run in five innings in a 5-3 defeat at Baltimore in which he was limited to 67 pitches. It marked his first start since April 23, with the right-hander on the disabled list since May 6 with a right shoulder muscle injury.

He is 2-0 with a 0.75 ERA in two home starts as he faces Houston (53-73) for the first time.

The only Astros hitter he has seen is Carter, who struck out and walked against him with Oakland in 2011.

Carter is a much bigger threat now. He has 11 homers since the All-Star break to tie Miami's Giancarlo Stanton for the major league lead and his 32 RBIs in that span lead baseball.

The slugger is batting .340 with eight homers and 19 RBIs in his past 13 games. He struck out all four times at the plate before his winning homer Tuesday.

Carter was hitting .184 with 13 homers and 30 RBIs at the end of June. He is batting .307 with major league highs of 17 homers and 42 RBIs since.

"I think you look at the success that he has had in the last six or seven weeks, I think that is the player he has the capability of being," manager Bo Porter said. "Now it's just a matter of him finishing the season strong."

Major league batting leader Jose Altuve went 1 for 3 and is hitting .421 in his last nine games. He's three hits shy of his career-high total of 177 set last year.

The Astros will turn to the pitcher who beat the Yankees on opening day in Scott Feldman (6-9, 4.45), who worked 6 2-3 scoreless innings in that 6-2 victory April 1.

The right-hander is 0-3 with a 4.70 ERA in his last three starts in the Bronx. Teixeira is 7 for 20 against him and Stephen Drew is 5 for 11.

Houston has lost his last six road starts, with Feldman going 0-4 with a 5.93 ERA.

The Astros have never captured a series in the Bronx, where they are 3-7.

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