Kuroda and Hafner lead Yankees over Astros 7-4

HOWIE RUMBERG (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Hiroki Kuroda has become quite adept at turning a rough start into an impressive outing.

Kuroda settled in after a rocky start to pitch four-hit ball through seven innings, Travis Hafner had three RBI singles and the New York Yankees used small ball to beat the Houston Astros 7-4 on Tuesday night.

''You have to be pretty good to stick around to make it through those first three innings and then be good enough to give your team seven innings,'' Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Jayson Nix had an RBI infield single and Brennan Boesch a run-scoring fielder's choice for the banged-up Bronx Bombers, who bounced back from a 9-1 loss to the Astros on Monday. New York took advantage of Phil Humber's four wild pitches and a couple of close calls at first base to score its first four runs without an extra-base hit.

Kuroda (4-1) threw 67 pitches in the first three innings, putting at least two runners on in each one. But just as he did in his previous start, he got in a good rhythm and retired 14 of his final 15 batters.

The right-hander gave up three runs in the first two innings Thursday against Toronto, then didn't allow another hit through the sixth.

At first he had trouble commanding his sinker and slider Tuesday night, but pitching coach Larry Rothschild recommended he work exclusively out of the stretch.

''In the early innings those pitches were useless,'' Kuroda said through a translator. ''Today, like last outing, my balance was off, mechanically. My release point was off, too.''

Kuroda won his fourth straight decision, matching a career best. He walked four for the second time this season.

Yankees reliever David Robertson gave up a two-run homer to Chris Carter in the eighth to make it 4-2. But Lyle Overbay homered off Brad Peacock, recently demoted to the bullpen, to open the bottom half and Chris Stewart had an RBI single to restore the four-run lead. Hafner made it 7-2 with another single.

''You just see that his approach is good, and he's been great in that four-hole for us,'' Girardi said of Hafner. ''With all the people we have out, he's done a really good job in our lineup.''

Shawn Kelley gave up a two-run double to Jose Altuve in the ninth and walked off the mound to many in the sparse crowd chanting ''We want Mo!'' Girardi obliged and Mariano Rivera got one out for his 10 straight save to start the season.

Ichiro Suzuki had three of the Yankees' 15 hits. He had two infield hits and reached on a wild pitch after striking out. Suzuki stole his second base of the year and scored twice.

Kevin Youkilis joined Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson on the disabled list Tuesday because of a lumbar spine sprain. Despite all their injuries - and all the gloomy predictions that accompanied the loss of four All-Stars - the Yankees ended April 16-10 after losing four of their first five. They are in second place in the AL East behind the surprising Boston Red Sox.

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

Hafner thinks he knows why the retreads and no-names are having so much success: ''They brought in really good dudes.''

The Astros didn't take batting practice one night after amassing 17 hits. They had several early opportunities against Kuroda but looked a lot more like the young, free-swinging club they are than they did on Monday. They struck out 12 times

With two on in the first, Carlos Pena struck out and Carter grounded out. Altuve grounded into a fielder's choice with the bases loaded in the second and Houston went down three in a row following Jason Castro's double and Pena's walk to open the third.

After Pena's walk, Kuroda allowed just one batter to reach - a leadoff single in the fifth by Altuve. Kuroda struck out five after the walk and had eight Ks overall.

While Kuroda found his groove, Humber (0-6) looked spooked with runners on.

Humber entered having given up 18 hits and 15 runs over his last two starts and got in trouble right away.

Brett Gardner walked and stole second, Suzuki had an infield hit and, after Pena made a fine stab behind first base on Robinson Cano's sharp grounder, Hafner hit an opposite-field single to left for the first run.

''I think the whole thing was the leadoff walk in the first inning,'' Humber said. ''I feel like I threw the ball well. I'm a little bit frustrated, but it's part of the game.''

The Astros turned their fifth double play of the series and major league-leading 36th to end the threat.

Humber was lifted after the sixth trailing 4-0. The right-hander came in with 1.14 runs of support, the lowest in the majors among pitchers with five starts. He gave up nine hits and walked two, one intentionally.

''He did a great job of giving us an opportunity to win this game and that's what you want from your starter,'' Houston manager Bo Porter said.

NOTES: The first two innings took almost an hour. ... Astros OF J.D. Martinez (sprained right knee) was scheduled to start a rehab assignment at Double-A Corpus Christi. ... Opponents are batting .318 against Kuroda in the first three innings and .092 after that.

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