Astros starter Bud Norris had trouble commanding his fastball in the early going today and wound up on the wrong end of a 6-3 decision. Norris walked Brett Gardner to lead off the game and Gardner came around to score the fist of two runs the Yankees would tally in the inning. Bud walked two more hitters in the second before surrendering a three-run blast to Robinson Cano. Norris settled down in the third, holding the Yankees at bay but left the game trailing 5-0.
The Astros hitters had trouble solving Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda and his steady diet of breaking pitches. Kuroda was spotting his pitches nicely in his four inning stint on the mound. Chris Johnson was the only Astros hitter that looked comfortable at the plate against Kuroda. Johnson hammered a fastball to the left-centerfield gap in the second inning for a ground rule double. Johnson waited nicely on a slider and doubled again his next time up, driving in J.D. Martinez with the Astros first run of the day. After Kuroda and Mariano Rivera were out of the game the Astros stepped it up a notch, tallying six hits in the final four innings. Brett Gardner made a couple of sliding catches in leftfield to rob the Astros of two more hits.
Brett Myers breezed through the fifth inning and returned to the mound for the sixth. The Astros newly anointed closer mixed in a number of breaking pitches and was able to complete two scoreless innings, throwing a total of only 22 pitches in the process. Xavier Cedeno and Fernando Rodriguez each tossed a scoreless inning of their own. Rodriguez looked especially good. His curveball was darting sharply down and out of the strike zone enabling him to chalk up a pair of strikeouts.
Both of the Rule 5 guys got into today’s game and the results were mixed. Marwin Gonzalez started at shortstop and doubled in his third and final at-bat. Gonzalez may have been able to reach third base on the play but failed to take advantage of a bobble by the Yankees outfielder. Gonzalez hit the ball hard and it nearly left the park. But he appeared to lose focus and showed a lack of hustle by coasting into second with his head down. Gonzalez was immediately lifted for a pinch-runner, perhaps so Brad Mills could discuss the play with him in detail. Rhiner Cruz got his chance in the seventh inning, facing hitters that probably won’t be in the big leagues this season. Cruz reached 96 on the radar gun and retired the first two batters he faced. Cruz then grooved a fastball down the middle and Bill Hall took it deep and over the leftfield wall for a solo homerun. Giving up a homer to Bill Hall should be grounds for immediate dismissal. Cruz also seemed to show a lack of hustle on the previous play. The rookie was slow to cover first on a ground ball to the right side of the infield and barely nipped the runner at the bag. Both youngsters have been less than impressive so far this spring. Neither appears ready to spend the entire season in the big leagues and I believe they should both be offered back to their previous teams.
On the bright side, J.B. Shuck and Angel Sanchez came off the bench to deliver clutch hits late in the game. Shuck stroked an RBI triple to center in the eighth and Sanchez lined a sharp single up the middle in the ninth. Sanchez now has five hits in eight at-bats this spring.