Marcus Stroman off again as Yankees fail to sweep Astros

NEW YORK — After a strong beginning to his Yankees career, Marcus Stroman hasn’t been at his best over his last few starts.

That included his May 3 outing against the Tigers. While Stroman danced around trouble and held Detroit to one earned run, he walked five batters for the second time in as many starts.

But “there never was that backbreaking blow,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone noted before Stroman took the mound against the Astros on Thursday.

Unlike the Tigers, Houston made a sizable dent against the right-hander. Stroman limited himself to just two walks, but a pair of first-inning homers helped the Astros win, 4-3, while narrowly avoiding a three-game sweep in New York.

The scoring began in the first inning when Yordan Alvarez smoked a Stroman cutter at 116.8 mph, sending it 395 feet over the right-field fence for the Astros’ third first-inning solo homer of the series.

While Alvarez’s jack was no cheap shot, it paled in comparison to Jon Singleton’s two-run bomb later in the inning. With measurements of 115.4 mph and 442 feet, the first baseman crushed Stroman’s sinker off the facing of the third deck at Yankee Stadium.

Afterward, a wide-eyed Alvarez could be seen oohing and aahing on the Astros’ bench.

The Yankees cut the Astros’ lead to one in the third inning when Anthony Volpe hit his fifth homer of the season to the right-field corner. However, Houston responded in the fifth frame when Jeremy Peña picked up an RBI single off of Stroman, who totaled nine hits, four earned runs and five strikeouts over 5.2 innings and 95 pitches.

While Stroman saw his ERA rise to 3.80, Ronel Blanco worked around the Volpe home run and his own control problems.

The righty didn’t allow any other runs despite issuing four walks over 5 2/3 innings and 107 pitches. The Yankees managed four hits and struck out five times against Blanco, who authored a no-hitter in his first start of the season.

The Yankees trimmed the deficit to one once again when Aaron Judge added his own monstrous homer in the eighth, but the 115.7-mph, 473-foot solo shot off Ryan Pressly wasn’t enough for the Yankees to sweep the Astros for the second time this season after Josh Hader pitched a scoreless ninth.

Now the Yankees will hit the road for trips to Tampa Bay and Minnesota. Their series against the division-rival Rays begins Friday night, when Clarke Schmidt will take the mound after recording a 3.50 ERA over his first seven starts.

Taj Bradley will make his season debut for the Rays. The right-hander missed the first six weeks of the season after suffering a right pectoral strain during spring training.

As for the rest of the series, Nestor Cortes and Luis Gil are scheduled to start for the Yankees on Saturday and Sunday. They’ll face Zack Littell and a pitcher to be determined before heading to Minnesota.