An off night for Tanaka prevents sweep of Astros

The signs were favorable Wednesday night for the Yankees to make some strides against their competition in the American League East. The Orioles, Red Sox and Blue Jays all lost while the Yanks had their ace, Masahiro Tanaka, on the mound seeking a sweep of the Astros at Houston’s Minute Maid Park.

The recent stretch of quality work by Yankees starters hit a snag as Tanaka gave up four earned runs and seven hits, including a home run, with two walks and four strikeouts in his five innings in a 4-1 loss. Both walks came in the second inning with one out and led to a Houston run on a single by Carlos Gomez.

Tanaka avoided further damage that inning with a strikeout and a pepper shot but got into immediate trouble in the third as Marwin Gonzalez led off with a single. He crossed to second on an infield out and to third on a wild pitch from where he scored on a single by Carlos Correa. The killer blow came from Colby Rasmus, who had been hitless in his previous 29 at-bats but drove a 2-1 splitter that stayed up for a two-run home run.

The past turn through the rotation the five Yankees starters had combined for a 3-0 record with a 1.62 ERA in 33 1/3 innings.

The Yankees’ only resistance was Brian McCann’s 15th homer leading off the fourth. The Yanks put two runners on with one out, but Lance McCullers Jr. struck out Chase Headley and Aaron Hicks to douse the rally. McCullers, whose father pitched for the Yankees in 1989 and ’90, had 10 strikeouts in his six innings.

The Yanks wound up striking out 15 times as three Astros relief pitchers teamed to retire all nine batters they faced with five Ks. The last 10 Yankees batters in the game went down in order and 17 of the final 18 hitters, 10 on strikes.

Relief pitching was also a positive for the Yankees. Adam Warren, reacquired from the Cubs in the Aroldis Chapman trade, pitched a scoreless sixth inning. Luis Severino, recently recalled from Triple A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, showed flashes of 2015 with two hitless innings of one-walk, three-strikeout relief.

Both relievers could play major roles the rest of the way. Warren was 3-2 but with a 5.91 ERA for the Cubs and was optioned to Triple A Iowa. Severino was even worse for the Yankees (0-6, 7.46 ERA), but he may have re-found himself at SWB where he was 7-1 with a 3.25 ERA in 10 starts.

Alex Rodriguez spent his 41st birthday on the bench with no chance to improve on his .206 batting average, which has quite frankly placed him where he is.

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