The Tampa Bay Rays keep capitalizing on head-to-head opportunities to gain ground on the first-place New York Yankees in the American League East race.
Tampa Bay opened a three-game series at New York with a 4-2 win on Friday, and the Rays will attempt to slice their division deficit to 2 1/2 games on Saturday.
The Yankees hold a 9-8 edge over Tampa Bay in the season series with two games to go, but seven of their wins came in the first half when they raced out to a 15 1/2-game lead in early July and were 64-28 at the All-Star break.
The Rays have won five of the past seven meetings, including the Friday contest. Tampa Bay’s Wander Franco returned from the injured list and had a two-run double among his three hits and Randy Arozarena added a pair of RBI doubles among his three hits.
Getting five head-to-head wins over the Yankees en route to a 9-1 record over their past 10 games has allowed the Rays to inch significantly closer.
“We have a lot of good pieces back who have really provided depth and provided sparks in our clubhouse and just the way we’re trending right now, things are looking really good.” Tampa Bay right-hander Drew Rasmussen said.
The Yankees have scored a total of five runs in their past four games against the Rays. They also experienced a rough defensive performance on Friday, when struggling left fielder Aaron Hicks was pulled after the fourth inning following a pair of defensive miscues that led to two runs.
“I got benched during the game,” Hicks said. “That’s rough, especially when all you want to do is produce for your team.”
New York also is missing seven regulars from its starting lineup due to injuries and the paternity list. Among the group of sidelined players, only Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson may be available on Saturday.
“We got a job to do,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said Friday afternoon. “The season waits for no one.”
Stanton has not started since fouling a ball off his left foot on Monday against the Minnesota Twins. He appeared as a pinch hitter for the second game in a row on Friday.
Donaldson, who is hitting .220, might return after spending four games on the paternity list.
After Rasmussen fanned 10 in six scoreless innings, Tampa Bay’s Corey Kluber (10-7, 4.00 ERA) will attempt to win his fourth straight start on Saturday. Kluber posted a 1.89 ERA, 11 strikeouts and no walks in 19 innings during that span. He allowed two hits in seven scoreless innings on Sept. 3 in a 2-1 win over the Yankees in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Kluber is 1-1 with a 1.08 ERA in four starts against the Yankees this season. He is 6-3 with a 2.08 ERA in 12 regular-season starts vs. New York.
Jameson Taillon (12-4, 3.95 ERA) gets the ball for the Yankees on Saturday. The right-hander felt no effects from taking a comebacker on his forearm Aug. 30 against the Los Angeles Angels. He made his scheduled start on Monday and took a no-decision after allowing two runs on six hits in five innings against the Twins.
Taillon is 2-2 with a 2.30 ERA in five career starts against the Rays, whom he limited to two hits in eight innings during a 2-0 road win on May 27.
–Field Level Media