Newcomers Juan Soto, Alex Verdugo aid Yankees’ opening day comeback against Astros

HOUSTON — The Yankees found themselves down early against the Astros on Thursday, but two newcomers helped the club overcome a 4-0 Opening Day deficit.

Juan Soto, the centerpiece of the Yankees’ offseason, started the scoring with a bases loaded, RBI single in the fifth. The slugger finished the game, a 5-4 Yankees win, 1 for 3 with a strikeout. Soto, immediately demonstrating his ability to control the strike zone, drew an eight-pitch walk in his first at-bat and worked another base-on-balls in the eighth inning.

Following Soto’s single, the Yankees scored again when Anthony Rizzo got hit by a pitch in the wrist/forearm area with the bases juiced. The first baseman remained in the game, his first real contest since post-concussion syndrome ended his 2023 season on Aug. 1. Anthony Volpe then made it 4-3 with a bases-loaded walk, one of three free passes for him on the day.

Oswaldo Cabrera, thrust into the opening day lineup thanks DJ LeMahieu’s injured foot, then tied the game with a solo homer in the sixth. That set the stage for Alex Verdugo, another newbie, who gave the Yankees their first lead of the game with a sac fly in the seventh inning.

The Yankees’ comeback followed a not-so-stellar start from Nestor Cortes, who had to pitch the first game of the season with Gerrit Cole on the injured list.

An erratic first inning saw the left-handed Cortes total 33 pitches while walking two and allowing three hits, including a two-run single to Chas McCormick. Yainer Diaz also drove in a run to make it 3-0.

Jake Myers added a solo homer in the second frame, but Cortes settled in after that, which allowed his offense to chip away. Cortes totaled five innings, five hits, four earned runs, two walks and five strikeouts over 76 pitches.

Jonathan Loáisiga then gave the Yankees two scoreless innings in relief before Ian Hamilton and Clay Holmes put a bow on opening day. Holmes worked through trouble in the ninth, but a throw from Soto produced an out at the plate and preserved the Yankees’ one-run lead.

With Game 1 in the books, the Yankees will turn to Carlos Rodón on Sunday.

The southpaw is looking to start his season off on a strong note after injuries and poor performance marred his first season in pinstripes. Rodón, hindered by forearm, back and hamstring trouble, recorded a 6.85 ERA over 14 starts last year after signing a six-year, $162 million deal.

Rodón’s spring offered mixed results; he ended up with a 4.19 ERA over 19 1/3 innings.

“Now it’s real,” the pitcher said after his last exhibition start. “Now these games matter and whatever this spring training was, it doesn’t matter.”

Cristian Javier will start for the Astros on Friday. A Yankees killer in recent years, the righty logged a 4.56 ERA last season.