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Outlook: Consider Oberholtzer for AL-only formats

HOUSTON -- It's much too early for the Yankees to be thinking about playing must-win games. Or is it?

After dropping the first two contests of the season to the Astros at Minute Maid Park, the Bombers will try to avoid a three-game sweep on Thursday, an event that would give Houston's fans even more reason to cheer.

"It's an important game, because you obviously want to get on that side of the column and you want to start putting some wins together," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros have had the upper hand in the pitching department through the first 18 innings of the series, holding the Yanks to a 2-for-18 mark with runners in scoring position, with 16 stranded on base.

"These guys are playing with a lot of confidence," Houston manager Bo Porter said. "I felt like we had a great camp. The staff did a tremendous job. There was a lot of energy. I think our guys came into this season on a high. We came into Spring Training strong and carried that momentum into the regular season."

Houston's starting pitchers have not allowed a run in 11 2/3 combined innings, a trend they'll try to continue with Brett Oberholtzer taking the ball in the finale. The 23-year-old had a 2.24 ERA in 10 starts after joining the Astros' rotation last season, including two complete games. He said that the Yankees will challenge him with "a lot of experience."

"I'm going to have to try to make quality pitches to stay in the game and not get too ahead of myself," Oberholtzer said.

New York will hope for right-hander Ivan Nova to string together a winning outing. Nova will be facing the Astros for the first time, and though it's only the third game of the season, he senses some urgency.

"Every game is important for us," Nova said. "You don't want to start the season losing games. We already lost two, but it's not the end. It's normal tomorrow; just trying to act confident, go out there and throw strikes to hitters."

Nova hopes to continue building on a spring in which he went 2-1 with a 3.66 ERA in five Grapefruit League starts, walking two and striking out 21 in 19 2/3 innings, with 21 hits.

"The way I threw the ball, it was awesome," he said. "I handled the spring without any pressure, not thinking too much about what's going to be next. I just went out each and every day, one day at a time."

Yankees: Soriano working on his timing
Alfonso Soriano slugged 17 home runs in 58 games for the Yankees last season, so the 38-year-old designated hitter has built up a reserve of good will in the clubhouse. He's hoping to tap into last season's success after starting the 2014 campaign 0-for-8,with four strikeouts.

"It's just me. I just try to swing at good pitches, because I think they're going to give me something to hit," Soriano said. "But the first two games, I've just seen that they know I'm very aggressive. They're not giving me anything to hit in the first couple of pitches, so I've got to be more selective and more calmed down at home plate."

Girardi acknowledged that Soriano is still a tick off at the plate, but he will point to the small sample size of just two games as a good reason for not pushing the panic button.

"He's just not quite on track," Girardi said. "We talk about when it's early in the season, sometimes it's glaring. It happens. You've got 200 at-bats under your belt, you don't say much about it. He's a very good hitter, and he'll be productive."

Astros: Historic start in Houston
The Astros have started the season 2-0 for the 13th time in franchise history. The last time they did so was in 2003, when against the Rockies in Houston.

"It's definitely good to get off to a good start," said right-hander Matt Albers. "We still have a ton of games to go, but it's good to get in there and get a couple of wins right away. Hopefully, we can keep it going."

The hot opening is even more welcome considering that Houston lost 111 games in 2013. Having the first two wins of the year come against the Yankees is just icing on the cake.

"It's always awesome when you're 2-0," outfielder Dexter Fowler said. "Coming off the season last year, that's the past. The guys in here know we can win. That's a good team over there and a good team we beat."

Worth noting
• Fowler hit a leadoff home run on Wednesday off Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda. It was his seventh career leadoff homer, and his first since June 2, 2013, off the Dodgers' Matt Magill while he was with the Rockies. The last Astros player to hit a leadoff homer was Jonathan Villar, on Sept. 10, 2013, off the Mariners' Joe Saunders.

Fowler also became the first player in Astros history with two runs scored in each of his first two games with the club.

• Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter enters play on Thursday with 3,317 career hits, good for ninth place on baseball's all-time list. He needs two hits to tie Paul Molitor (3,319) for eighth on the all-time list, and fourth on the American League all-time list.

• The Astros started the season with 6 2/3 scoreless innings by Scott Feldman in the opener and five by Jarred Cosart in the second game. The most recent team to have starters with five or more shutout innings against the Yankees in the first two games of the season was the 1976 Brewers (Jim Slaton and Bill Travers).

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