Though their lead isn't as big as it once was, the New York Yankees continue to sit atop the AL East despite a rash of injuries that have plagued the club all season.
The Yankees are slated to get another key piece back from the disabled list on Tuesday evening, when Andy Pettitte returns to the rotation to start the opener of a three-game series versus the Toronto Blue Jays.
New York's rotation has had to overcome temporary losses this season of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova and Pettitte, but the 40-year-old's return puts the starting five back at full strength along with Phil Hughes and Hiroki Kuroda.
In addition, the Yanks haven't had the services of future Hall-of-Fame closer Mariano Rivera all season, while third baseman Alex Rodriguez and reliever Joba Chamberlain have spent time on the disabled list. First baseman Mark Teixeira and shortstop Derek Jeter are currently battling injury as well, though Jeter was able to serve as the designated hitter in Sunday's game versus the Rays despite a nagging injury to his left ankle.
The Yankees could certainly use Pettitte's veteran experience as they look to stave off a possible collapse for the division title after holding a lead as large as 10 games back on July 18. New York now finds itself in a fight for first place with the charging Baltimore Orioles, who sit a half game back in the standings.
Pettitte has been out since suffering a fractured left ankle in a game against the Cleveland Indians on June 27. The lefty went winless in his four starts prior to going on the DL and is 3-3 with a solid 3.22 ERA through nine starts this season, which follows a brief one-year retirement.
Pettitte has a wealth of experience versus the Blue Jays, going 21-12 with a 4.16 ERA in 42 meetings, including 41 starts.
According to manager Joe Girardi, Pettitte will have a pitch count around 70 but isn't expected to have any kind of limitations.
"I think he really has been pretty sharp, considering the layoff that he's had," Girardi said on Sunday of Pettitte. "In the simulated games, I was very pleased with the way he threw the baseball. I expect that to carry over to Tuesday.
"We've been waiting for him to come back."
New York kept its hold on first place with a 6-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays in the rubber match of a three-game set on Monday. Russell Martin capped a five-run third inning with a three-run homer, while Alex Rodriguez knocked in a pair of runs, including one in the third frame.
"Patience really paid off," Girardi said about his team's approach in the third inning. "(We) had some really good at-bats."
Hiroki Kuroda struck out 10 in six innings to earn the win, yielding four runs on four hits and two walks.
The Blue Jays head to New York following a 2-4 homestand in which they won twice to avoid three-game sweeps. That was the case on Sunday in a 5-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox that featured six scoreless innings from Brandon Morrow.
"I found a rhythm, found a groove and finished up nicely," Morrow said.
The curious case of Ricky Romero's regression continues tonight with the Toronto lefty looking to avoid a 14th straight losing decision.
Romero, who won 15 games and posted a 2.92 ERA last season, was 8-1 following his last victory on June 22, but has since logged a 7.95 ERA over a 14-start winless drought. His 13 straight losses ties the franchise mark first set by Tom Underwood in 1978-79.
The 27-year-old lost his sixth start in a row on Wednesday versus the Seattle Mariners, yielding three runs on eight hits and four walks in four innings of work.
"We're going to continue to work with him," Toronto manager John Farrell said. "We're going to continue to finish this year on a positive note and that is our intent going forward."
Romero, now 8-14 with a 5.87 ERA in 29 starts this year, has lost five straight decisions to the Yankees. That includes all three starts against them this year while posting a 4.95 ERA.
New York has won six of its 11 meetings versus Toronto this season.