The New York Yankees have built a solid lead in the AL East since their last matchup with the Boston Red Sox, but they've also lost two of their top starting pitchers to injuries.
Hiroki Kuroda will try to help his short-handed team again by providing another stellar outing in the opener of a four-game set at Fenway Park on Friday night.
New York (49-32) is set to face Boston for the first time since sweeping three games at Fenway from April 20-22. The teams have 16 more meetings this season.
The Yankees head into this series in first place, while the Red Sox (42-40) are 7 1/2 games behind.
New York, though, is 3-4 since CC Sabathia was placed on the disabled list June 27 and Andy Pettitte broke a bone in his left leg on the same day. Sabathia is expected to return shortly after the All-Star break, while Pettitte should miss at least six weeks.
The Yankees, though, have received outstanding performances from their starting pitchers lately with a 2.35 ERA in the last five games. Kuroda (8-7, 3.17 ERA) began that stretch with a 4-0 win over the Chicago White Sox on Saturday - his latest dominant effort.
The right-hander, 5-1 with a 1.65 ERA in his last seven starts, matched a career high with 11 strikeouts and yielded three singles over seven innings.
"These are great pitchers that we're missing," Kuroda said through a translator. "The only thing I can do on the mound is to pitch my game."
Kuroda lost his only start against the Red Sox 2-0 on June 20, 2010, allowing two runs over seven innings and striking out nine at Fenway while with Los Angeles.
This time, he'll face a team that scored 14 runs on a 2-5 West Coast trip. The Red Sox managed five runs while dropping all three games against Oakland to start the week.
They had three hits in 3-2 defeat Wednesday - one of them being David Ortiz's 400th homer.
"Our offense has just been terrible," outfielder Cody Ross said. "I don't need to sugarcoat it. It just (stunk) basically. Our pitchers have been pitching their butts off to keep us in games and we just can't seem to push a run across."
One of those pitchers who hasn't seen much support is Josh Beckett (4-7, 4.06), and that trend continued in his first start after missing time due to inflammation in his pitching shoulder.
The right-hander gave up two runs and four hits over six innings in his return from the disabled list Saturday, but Boston lost 3-2 in 11 innings to Seattle.
Beckett has posted a 3.60 ERA in his last five outings but has lost three consecutive decisions as the Red Sox have provided him with eight runs in that span.
He hasn't needed too much help in his last six matchups with the Yankees, going 5-0 with a 2.66 ERA, though Boston gave him 35 runs of support in those games. He needed the extra offense in the most recent of those outings, going seven innings and giving up five runs in a 9-5 victory Aug. 31.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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