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Hiroki Kuroda escapes jams, then dominates as Yanks top Astros

Hiroki Kuroda delivers a pitch in the first

Hiroki Kuroda delivers a pitch in the first inning of a game against the Houston Astros at Yankee Stadium. (April 30, 2013) Credit: Jim McIsaac

The first three innings, Hiroki Kuroda was a mess.

His pitches consistently missed their intended locations, and when they did cross the plate, the Astros hit them.

As Kuroda put it bluntly afterward, his sinker and slider, two bread-and-butter pitches, were "pretty useless.''

Yet, after three innings and 67 pitches, the veteran righthander had kept Houston off the scoreboard.

And sure enough, after a suggestion by pitching coach Larry Rothschild, Kuroda soon found the command he had been lacking and the Astros' chances dried up.

With the Yankees putting together another balanced offensive attack, they posted a 7-4 victory in front of 34,301 at the Stadium Tuesday night.

After starting the month 1-4, the Yankees, with nine players on the disabled list, concluded the month 16-10, far exceeding to this point many of the grim expectations set for them.

"I thought our guys did a very, very good job,'' Joe Girardi said of the month. "I'm pleased with the way the guys are playing.''

Pitching has played a critical role and Kuroda, who allowed four hits in seven shutout innings, has led the way, finishing the month 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA.

Tuesday night, after an ugly first three innings, Rothschild suggested that Kuroda pitch from the stretch.

"That's something I don't really like to do but I followed his suggestion and everything went well,'' said Kuroda, who retired 14 of the final 15 batters he faced.

Said catcher Chris Stewart: "He knows how to make the proper adjustments. Some guys unfortunately aren't able to feel what they're doing out there, so they don't know how to correct it. He's really good at doing what he needs to do to correct himself and get himself where he needs to be.''

Kuroda, 38, struck out a season-best eight and walked four to tie a season high, though none after the third inning

David Robertson provided some drama, allowing a two-out single to Carlos Peña and subsequent homer to Chris Carter to make it 4-2 in the eighth.

But Lyle Overbay's fourth homer of the season in the bottom half made it 5-2 and Chris Stewart's RBI single, driving in Eduardo Nuñez, who had two doubles and a single, made it 6-2. Travis Hafner's third run-scoring hit of the night made it 7-2.

The Astros (8-19) scored twice in the ninth off Shawn Kelley, but Mariano Rivera got the final out to make it 10-for-10 in save opportunities.

Rivera has done the job all season and Girardi's lineup certainly did Tuesday night, a recurring theme the first month.

He sent out one featuring five consecutive lefties -- Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Robinson Cano, Hafner and Brennan Boesch -- against Philip Humber and it paid off, with the quintet producing eight of the Yankees' 15 hits and four RBIs. Hafner, the designated hitter who continues to produce, hit three run-scoring singles, giving him 17 RBIs, tying him with Cano for best on the team. Eduardo Nuñez and Ichiro also had three hits apiece, with Nuñez contributing two doubles.

"I think we've done a good job,'' Hafner said of the team's 16-10 month. "Our pitching's been outstanding and I think we've swung the bats pretty well, too. I think we feel good about April and we're just looking to keep it going.''

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