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Hafner produces at plate for Yankees

The SportsXchange

NEW YORK -- Travis Hafner hit a curveball past the shift for one run-scoring hit and then cued another pitch off the end of the bat for another.

That accounted for two of Hafner's three RBI singles, and performances like those are among the reasons that, despite a crowded disabled list, the Yankees concluded April with a 7-4 victory over the Houston Astros on Tuesday night that gave them 16 wins.

"The last one was a bad swing that cued off the end of the bat," Hafner said. "I'll take it."

That gave Hafner his first three-hit game as a Yankee and capped his first month with much more production that many fans thought he would give after several injury-plagued seasons with the Cleveland Indians.

"They were great," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said of Hafner's at-bats. "He didn't get the big home run for us, but he got three hits with runners in scoring position. You just see that his approach is good and he's been great in that four-hole for us, and with all the people that we have out, he's really done a good job in our lineup.

Hafner had his first three-hit game since Aug. 5 and finished the month with 21 hits, his highest total since he had 31 in September 2007 with the Indians.

"I think swing-wise, I've just gotten a little more consistent as the season has gone on," Hafner said. "I was kind of doing some new stuff in the spring and I feel it's gotten a little better as the season has gone on."

The Yankees also have become more consistent as the season has gone on. After starting with four losses in their first five games, they have won 15 of their last 21, which is tied with Boston for the best record in baseball since April 7.

"I'm pleased with the way these guys are playing," Girardi said. "They have done the job. They have a very good job for us. It hasn't always been pretty, but our guys have come up with clutch hits when we need them."

Hafner's continued production came on a night when Hiroki Kuroda struggled with his command early, allowing eight base runners and throwing 67 pitches in the first three innings.

After pitching coach Larry Rothchild convinced Kuroda to go to the stretch, he found better command with his slider and sinker, retiring 14 of the final 15 hitters while scattering four hits in seven innings.

"That is actually something I don't like to do, but I followed his suggestion today," Kuroda said through an interpreter. "My control wasn't there, so I tried to throw, attack the zone, as much as I can."

Hafner said, "It seemed like he struggled with his control in the first couple of innings but got out trouble every inning. After that, he was outstanding, so just kind of a great job by a veteran pitcher who knows what he's doing.

Hafner also had his big night in a lineup that included left-hander hitters in the first five spots. Along with Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Robinson Cano and Brennan Boesch, the five were a combined 8 for 21, reached base 13 times and scored the first four runs against Philip Humber.

"They did a good job tonight," Girardi said. "We knew that Humber had struggled with lefties this year and a lot of my lefties, I'm going to leave in against a lefty anyways, so I decided I'm going to stack them."

Humber remained winless after allowing four runs and nine hits in six innings. He also had four wild pitches, which helped the Yankees' left-handed lineup get going on the bases.

"That's tough," Humber said of the wild pitches. "The worst was the two-strike pitch to Ichiro. We just got crossed up. It was a good pitch, he swung and missed and unfortunately he scored. That's not good."

The Astros broke through against the Yankees' bullpen as Chris Carter hit a two-run homer in the eighth off David Robertson and Jose Altuve had a two-run double off Shawn Kelley in the ninth.

Getting the late runs only made it more disappointing for the Astros after they dropped to 8-19.

"If we could have gotten a few runs earlier with the opportunities that we had and made a couple of break point plays, then the outcome could have been a little bit different," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "He did a great job of giving us an opportunity to win this game and that's what you want from your starter."

The combination of speed and power from the left side against a team that struggles in many areas, including pitching to lefties, paid off quickly.

Gardner walked, stole second and took third on Suzuki's soft infield single to third before scoring on Hafner's line-drive single to left in the first. In the second, Suzuki reached on a wild pitch on a strikeout, stole second on the first pitch to Hafner and scored on a single to left, making it 2-0.

The Yankees added two in the fifth by loading the bases on singles by Suzuki and Cano and an intentional walk to Hafner. Boesch appeared to hit into an inning-ending double play but beat the throw as Suzuki scored. After a wild pitch by Humber, Cano scored on Jayson Nix's infield single.

NOTES: The Yankees placed third baseman Kevin Youkilis on the 15-day disabled list with what is being called lumbar spine sprain. That is the same injury that cost Youkilis 23 games nearly a year ago with the Boston Red Sox. Youkilis has played once since April 20, on Saturday against the Toronto Blue Jays. "If we could do it all over again, we would not have played him last Saturday," general manager Brian Cashman said. ... To replace Youkilis on the roster, infielder Corban Joseph was promoted from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Joseph played mostly second base in the minors but was the only other infielder currently on the 40-man roster, which means that Nix is the starting third baseman until Youkilis returns. .... Porter will announce Wednesday his starter for Thursday's series opener in Detroit. That spot previously was held by right-hander Brad Peacock, who is 1-3 with an 8.44 ERA. ... Porter said Altuve suffered a mild sprain in a leg but didn't think there was anything to worry about.
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