NEW YORK -- After allowing a season-high six runs in his previous start, Yankees left-hander James Paxton needed a bounce-back outing Tuesday night -- and that's what he delivered in the Yankees' 4-2 loss to the Mets at Citi Field.
Paxton threw six innings of one-run ball and departed with the lead. And even though the Yankees weren't able to extend their MLB-record streak of 31 games with a home run, Paxton pitched in with the bat, too.
"Absolutely, considering the last few haven't been that great," Paxton said, when asked if he was encouraged by the outing. "Definitely a step in the right direction for me."
His manager echoed that positivity.
"Six innings, one run, that's a really good line," Aaron Boone said after the game. "But I actually thought he threw better than some of the results he got. So [I] continue to be encouraged. He handled himself well at the plate, obviously, so, good to see him go out and kind of set the tone for us tonight, we just couldn't finish it off for him."
Indeed, Paxton allowed two singles to Jeff McNeil -- and each had an expected batting average of .120 or lower, based on quality of contact. Six of the eight hits Paxton allowed had an expected batting average of less than 50 percent.
Boone also referred to Paxton's two sacrifice bunts at the plate, which matched his career total entering the evening. He is the first Yankees pitcher with multiple sac bunts in a game since Ivan Nova on June 17, 2012, at Washington.
Paxton's fastball -- which has returned to form after being a bit slower in his first few starts off the injured list -- carried him. He registered nine swings-and-misses on his four-seamer and three total on all other pitch types combined.
"I've got to give credit to Paxton. He was just dotting the inside corner with his fastball, and he made a lot of good pitches against me," said Michael Conforto, who delivered the go-ahead hit in the eighth inning off Zack Britton. The Yankees led 2-1 entering the bottom of the eighth, when the Mets scored three times to take the lead. J.D. Davis tied the game with a double off Adam Ottavino and Conforto hit a first-pitch two-run double against Britton.
Even with the fastball going, Paxton saw plenty to work on.
"I think my breaking balls were just OK tonight, didn't really have anything great to put guys away with. So that'll be what I focus on moving forward this week," he said.
Putting batters away has been a bit of a chore for him. He's struck out just three batters in each of his past two starts. Not having an out pitch to rely on could certainly have played a role.
It's the first time since 2016 that Paxton has had three or fewer strikeouts in at least two straight starts -- he did so in three straight in July that year. The only other time he's done that in back-to-back starts was in 2014.
Paxton is still looking to regain the strikeout-heavy form he showcased in April, when he had back-to-back 12-strikeout games. Since then, he hasn't had more than eight strikeouts in an outing, and his most since returning from the injured list is seven, three times.
Prior to the Yankees' 31-game homer streak, the previous record was held by the 2002 Rangers, who were led by Alex Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro. Texas homered in 27 straight games from Aug. 11 to Sept. 9.