The Yankees have done exactly what they've needed to thus far in the second half, taking three of four from both the Devil Rays and Blue Jays. Along the way they won five games in a row prior to yesterday's loss, but the only one of those games that was decided by more than two runs (Wednesday's 6-1 win), saw the Yanks trailing 1-0 in the seventh. Perhaps these close games are helping the team maintain its focus and avoid any bad habits that might emerge in garbage time at-bats, but I'd think they could use the emotional respite that a nice blowout win could provide (certainly Luis Vizcaino and Mariano Rivera could use an extra day of rest having pitched in six and five of the last eight games respectively).
The pressure won't ease up until the Yankees either clinch a playoff spot or get eliminated, and it's right back on them tonight. Having taken three of four from the Devil Rays last weekend, they need to do the same this weekend, and with Matt DeSalvo and Kei Igawa getting the starts in a double header tomorrow that's sure also see Wil Nieves get a start behind the plate, there's extra pressure to win tonight behind Mike Mussina, who will be caught by Jorge Posada for the first time since he gave up seven runs in 6 2/3 innings to the Red Sox on May 22. (For the curious, Mussina has posted a 3.40 ERA and a 1.20 WHIP in 11 starts with Nieves behind the plate and a 9.00 ERA and 1.89 WHIP in four starts with Posada behind the plate, one of them being his injury-shortened outing in Minneapolis in April).
As for the Devil Rays, after losing three of four to the Yankees, they took two of three at home from the scuffling Angels by a combined score of 15-8. The Rays have also made a trio of roster moves since the Yankees were in town. Most importantly, they've activated closer Al Reyes from the DL, farming out lefty Jon Switzer in the process. They also just tipped their roster from 11 to 13 pitchers in preparation for the four games they'll play over the next three days in the Bronx. Specifically, they optioned out infielder Jorge Cantu and designated outfielder Dustan Mohr for assignment while calling up righties Jae Kuk Ryu and Scott Dohmann. Word is the Rays will make yet another move to bring up J.P. Howell for a spot start in the second game of Saturday's double header, while Ryu could get the start in the day game if Jason Hammel is needed to eat innings for Edwin Jackson tonight.
They Yankees, have made a roster move of their own, calling up Shelley Duncan and optioning Kevin Thompson back to Scranton, while moving Doug Mientkiewicz to the 60-day DL to make room for Duncan on the 40-man roster. Duncan has been raking at Scranton, hitting .295/.380/.577 with 25 homers and 79 RBIs, but also 88 strikeouts. A big (6'5") outfielder/first baseman who's not particularly adept at either position, he's got the Adam Dunn skill set, but from the right-hand side of the plate. Duncan is no Dunn, however. He's 40 days older than Dunn, was a career .251/.334/.468 hitter prior to this year, and didn't crack triple-A until late last year on the verge of his 27th birthday. Duncan has 128 home runs in his minor league career. Dunn has 224 in his major league career. That Duncan went to college (University of Arizona), but Dunn didn't is not enough to explain even a fraction of that discrepancy. Still, it's worth a shot to see if Duncan can keep his bat hot (he's hitting .367 with four homers since the break) as the Yankee DH, which is where he'll start tonight (Johnny Damon will play center as Melky Cabrera's sitting due to the abdominal strain he suffered in yesterday's game).
Tonight's mound match-up of Mussina and Jackson is a rematch of Sunday's finale in Tampa, which the Yankees won 7-6 after some shoddy work by both bullpens. In that game, Jackson, who sports a season ERA of 7.14, held the Yankees scoreless for four frames before coughing up a four spot in the fifth. He finished after six innings having allowed just those four runs on six hits and two walks while striking out six. Mussina got the better of Jackson by allowing just three runs over six innings, but he also allowed five more hits and struck out none. Jackson has been a significantly better pitcher on the road this year, while Mussina has been a touch worse at home, so tonight is no given for the Yanks. They'll have to keep on fighting.