David Goldman
March 07, 2015

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) Jose Altuve and Dallas Keuchel got off to neat spring starts for the Houston Astros in a 9-4 loss to the New York Yankees on Saturday.

Altuve, the major league batting champion, made his exhibition debut and hit a leadoff single that began a three-run first inning against Scott Baker. Chris Carter drove in two runs with a bases-loaded double.

Keuchel, who went 12-9 with a 2.93 ERA and an AL-leading five complete games last season, gave up one hit in two shutout innings. He struck out one and walked one.

Keuchel needed just 23 pitches.

''It's weird because you want to work on stuff, but if you get some quick groundball outs, obviously you're doing something right,'' he said. ''That was a good start for me, so we'll build from there. I think I have four more outings to build up to 85 or 90 pitches.''

Minor leaguers Ramon Flores, Jake Cave and Greg Bird homered in the late innings for the Yankees.

New York rallied for six runs in the ninth. Rob Refsnyder's two-out, bases-loaded single put the Yankees ahead.

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius went 0 for 3. The Yankees want to see how hits against left-handers before committing to him as Derek Jeter's full-time replacement.

Gregorius batted twice against lefties - Keuchel got him to ground out, Tony Sipp struck him out.

''We knew we were getting a very good defender,'' manager Joe Girardi said of the December trade that brought Gregorius to New York. ''Obviously you'd love having an everyday shortstop and . . . he has the ability to hit left-handers, but sometimes you can get tagged early in your career. I want to see him against lefties.''

Gregorius said he's up for the challenge of facing lefties.

''It's the only way you're going to get better,'' he said. ''You're not going to get better not doing work, so me facing all these lefties is going to make me more comfortable against lefties.''

The 25-year-old lefty hitter has a .184 career batting average and no home runs against left-handers. But he hasn't had much of a chance to prove it in just 180 at bats, only 51 last year in Arizona.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Yankees: RHP Masahiro Tanaka, who missed almost half of last season with a partially turn elbow ligament, threw 29 pitches in a simulated game in Tampa. He hopes to pitch in a spring game within a week. ... Rookie OF Slade Heathcott was scratched from Saturday's lineup when he got sick.

Astros: Hank Conger caught for the first time after missing a couple of days with a sore elbow.

STARTING TIME

Yankees: Baker gave up five hits on his first 10 pitches and threw 29 pitches overall.

COMING UP

Alex Rodriguez will get a start at third base either Sunday or Monday in Tampa, Girardi said. ... Carlos Correa, the first overall pick in the 2012 draft, will start at shortstop for the Astros on Sunday against the Tigers. ... RHP Roberto Hernandez, who did not arrive in Houston's camp until Thursday, will pitch Monday, according to manager A.J. Hinch.

UP NEXT

Yankees: Adam Warren will wake his second spring start against Washington in Tampa.

Astros: With a pair of split-squad games Sunday, Scott Feldman will start against Atlanta in Kissimmee and Dan Straily will start against Detroit in Lakeland.

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