Yankees, Rays begin big series in the Bronx

CC Sabathia has already allowed a career high in home runs this season despite there still being just over two months worth of baseball left on the schedule.

Sabathia will try to end those struggles on Friday night as New York opens a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays, who have done their fair share of damage against the Yankees left-hander this season.

After setting a personal high with 22 home runs in 28 starts a season ago, Sabathia has already surpassed that total by one through 21 starts this campaign. He has given up nine longballs over his past six outings, including a pair in a no-decision at Boston on Sunday.

Pitching on his 33rd birthday, Sabathia was tagged for seven runs, nine hits and two walks over just five innings and came into the outing having lost three of his previous four decisions. He is 9-8 on the year and his earned run average ticked up to 4.37.

"He was missing with his fastball tonight," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "I didn't think he had really good command of it. He left some balls up that they hit out."

Seven of the home runs that Sabathia has allowed this season have come off the Rays' bats, including two by Ryan Roberts. James Loney, Evan Longoria and Wil Myers are also among those that have taken Sabathia deep this season and the big hurler is 1-2 with a 7.29 ERA in three meetings with Tampa Bay in 2013.

For the Rays, Jeremy Hellickson looks to extend his recent run of success in tonight's opener with a sixth straight winning decision.

Hellickson is unbeaten in six starts with a 2.19 ERA since yielding eight runs in a loss to Kansas City on June 13. He won in Toronto on Saturday, scattering two runs, five hits and three walks over five innings despite not feeling well before the game.

The right-hander has continued to keep the Rays in the games he starts, with Tampa Bay 9-1 in his last 10 outings. Hellickson himself is 9-3 with a 4.62 ERA in 20 starts this year, but has yet to face the Yankees.

In seven previous meetings with New York, including five starts, he is 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA.

The Rays have won 19 of their last 22 games and were looking to move into first place in the AL East for the first time this season, but Thursday's finale with the front-running Boston Red Sox was postponed. It will be made up on Monday following Tampa Bay's series in New York, so the Rays remain a half- game behind the Red Sox in the standings.

The young Myers has been a big part of Tampa Bay's surge and is hitting .500 (18-for-36) over his past nine games with two home runs and eight RBI. He has five homers on the season, including a grand slam off of Sabathia at Yankee Stadium on June 22 that was his first major league homer.

New York could use a power bat like Myers as the injury-ravaged club has not gone deep in seven straight games for the first time since April 12-19, 1990. The Yankees have only four home runs in their past 19 contests, which is why the club is on the verge of acquiring outfielder Alfonso Soriano from the Chicago Cubs.

Soriano began his career with the Yankees in 1999 and hit 39 and 38 homers for the club in 2002 and '03 before getting dealt to the Texas Rangers in a trade that brought Alex Rodriguez to the Bronx.

The 37-year-old is hitting .254 with 17 homers and 51 RBI in 93 games this season with the Cubs, having gone deep 10 times in his last 21 games.

New York split a four-game set with Texas ahead of this series, but Thursday's 2-0 win was just the club's third in its past nine games. The Yanks are 6 1/2 games out of first place in the AL East and hope to have a new look in the upcoming weeks.

In addition to the nearly-completed trade for Soriano, shortstop Derek Jeter could return to the lineup as early as Saturday from a strained right quad, while outfielder Curtis Granderson and infielder Jayson Nix have begun rehab assignments with Class-A Advanced Tampa.

Then there is Rodriguez, who has not played this season due to left hip surgery and was also recently diagnosed by the Yankees as having a quad injury of his own. Rodriguez said in a statement on Thursday that he was ready to return and wanted to be in the lineup on Friday, but the Yanks want him to further continue his rehab.

New York has said it doesn't expect Rodriguez to return to big league action before Aug. 1.

The Rays and Yankees have split 10 meetings this season.