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Yankees seek another victory over Rays

With Andy Pettitte's return right around the corner, David Phelps could be making his last start for the New York Yankees this evening when they continue a three-game set with the Tampa Bay Rays at Yankee Stadium.

Phelps lost his first start with the Yankees on Thursday in Kansas City, as he allowed two runs and six hits in only four innings. He also struck out five without walking a batter.

Pettitte is slated to start for the Yanks on Sunday against Seattle, meaning Phelps will likely return to being a long reliever, a role he filled admirably the first month of the season.

"I don't want guys approaching this start going, 'Gosh, if I don't do well, this could be my last start,'" Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "I think probably people are going to write that enough that the manager doesn't need to say it. We're going to make a determination of what we feel is best for the club.

"We have guys that we want to go out and pitch very well, and we'll make a decision on Sunday who we're going to take out."

Tampa will counter with righty Jeff Niemann, who is 2-3 this season with a 4.05 ERA. Niemann beat the Mariners on Thursday, holding them to three runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.

Niemann has had tremendous success versus the Yankees, going 3-0 with a 3.10 ERA in five starts.

New York drew first blood in this series on Tuesday, as Raul Ibanez hit two home runs, Ivan Nova threw seven solid innings and David Robertson anxiously closed out the Yankees' 5-3 win.

Nova (4-1) allowed two runs on six hits while walking two and striking out eight for New York, which beat its AL East rival for the first time in eight tries dating back to last season.

Curtis Granderson also homered off Rays starter James Shields (5-1), who had his five-start win streak snapped as he surrendered three runs on four hits and three walks over six frames.

Jose Molina and Luke Scott both hit solo homers in the loss, Tampa Bay's third straight.

"They hit some homers tonight, their guy Nova really pitched well ... it was a well played game and they got us tonight," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

The Rays loaded the bases against Robertson in the ninth, but the Yankees' new closer in the wake of the injury to Mariano Rivera caught Carlos Pena looking at strike three to pick up his fourth career save.

"I think it's important for him, he looked comfortable ... He threw strikes and that's the most important thing," said Girardi of Robertson.

The Rays swept the Yanks in a three-game set to start the season.