Solarte shines in Yankees' first victory of 2014
Rookie goes 3-for-3, makes fine defensive play in first big league start
HOUSTON -- The preparation for Yangervis Solarte's first Major League start included an autograph-seeking mission. The infielder bounced from locker to locker in the visitors' clubhouse at Minute Maid Park, having the previous game's lineup card signed by each member of the team.
By the time the night was over, Solarte's teammates were pleased that his name had appeared in this batting order. The 26-year-old rookie stroked three hits, scored twice and collected an RBI, helping the Yankees to a 4-2 victory over the Astros -- their first win of the young season.
"I've been waiting for a long time for this," Solarte said through an interpreter. "I thank God for everything, especially for the opportunity that the New York Yankees have given me. I hope to continue working hard, which is the main thing."
A switch-hitter who won a roster spot with a stellar spring, Solarte logged his first big league hit with a third-inning single off Astros starter Brett Oberholtzer and scored on a Carlos Beltran sacrifice fly, giving the Yankees their first lead of the season.
Solarte doubled in the fifth off Oberholtzer, scored on a Derek Jeter single, then enjoyed some good fortune when his seventh-inning popup fell between three fielders for an RBI single. That allowed Ichiro Suzuki to race home from second base with the fourth Yankees run.
"You have to give a lot of credit to our scouting department, our front office, for finding this kid," manager Joe Girardi said. "He gives us a lot of options being a switch-hitter, and he can play all over the infield. They went to work this winter and got us some middle infielders."
Jeter's single was the 3,318th of his career, placing him one behind Hall of Famer Paul Molitor for eighth place on baseball's all-time list. The support helped starter Ivan Nova, who did not have good command but battled through 5 2/3 innings for the win.
"I knew I didn't have my best stuff today," said Nova, who was unable to throw his curveball for strikes. "I had to find a way to win the game, to keep the team in the game."
Nova walked five and threw just 47 of his 88 pitches for strikes, hitting Houston catcher Jason Castro twice with breaking balls, but he limited the damage by inducing four double plays.
"I was battling through the whole game, trying to make my pitches," he said. "It was kind of hard for me today, but we got the win. That's the important thing."
Houston managed two runs and six hits off Nova; Jose Altuve knocked in one with a first-inning fielder's choice and Dexter Fowler doubled home Jonathan Villar in the fifth.
New York's bullpen trio of Adam Warren, Shawn Kelley and David Robertson clamped the damage there, retiring all 10 hitters they faced. For Robertson the save was his first since inheriting the closer's role from Mariano Rivera.
"I try to treat it just like it's the eighth inning. Get three outs, and it used to be 'Hand the ball to Mo,'" Robertson said. "Now I guess it's 'Turn around and high-five.'"
After celebrating their first 2-0 start since 2003, the Astros more closely resembled the squad that lost 111 games last season to finish last in the American League West.
Their defense cost them two runs; on Jeter's fifth-inning single, first baseman Marc Krauss cut off a strong throw from right fielder Alex Presley, who opted to nab Jeter near second base instead of trying to catch Solarte scoring.
The more glaring play was Solarte's seventh-inning popup. Catcher Carlos Corporan seemed to be underneath the ball but got confused by pitcher Brad Peacock and third baseman Matt Dominguez, and the ball plopped safely to the grass.
"From the dugout it looked like the pitcher should have just caught the ball," said Astros manager Bo Porter, who called it an "in-between play."
Solarte, who also made a sparkling defensive play on a hard liner to take a hit from Altuve in the eighth, agreed that he had enjoyed some good fortune in this first Major League start.
"Luck does take a part," he said. "You do your work, you do your movements, but then, whether the ball hits into the gap and so on -- certainly, there's a part of luck in that."
He is eager to see how the next few days will play out.
For weeks the Yankees have talked about using Kelly Johnson as their starting third baseman, but Girardi seemed to suggest that Solarte could work his way into the mix.
"We liked what he did," Girardi said. "You don't try to jump too quickly to conclusions, but the kid is swinging the bat well, there's no doubt about it."