As the regular-season calendar winds down, one of the teams will walk away Sunday with the lead in the American League East. As it stands, the Yankees hold a one-game edge after a split in the first two tilts of the four-game set.
On Saturday, New York will trot out its ace, veteran southpaw CC Sabathia.
The Yankees' 10-game division lead evaporated rather quickly over the last two months. For part of that stretch, Sabathia was sidelined with an elbow injury. He said he's now taking it upon himself to return the club to its winning ways.
"I feel like it's my job to go out and pitch well," Sabathia said. "If I have to go out and throw a shutout, or if I go out and give up a couple runs and we still win, it's my job to win that game."
Sabathia has faced the Orioles twice this season, and in both outings he surrendered four runs on eight hits in six innings. He received a no-decision and a loss in the two starts. On Saturday, he'll face a lineup that has lately flicked home runs over the fence at ease.
"It's tough, especially when Adam Jones is swinging the bat the way he is," Sabathia said. "[Mark] Reynolds is raking, so they have a tough lineup. I've faced a lot of those guys a lot, so hopefully I can just go out, make pitches and get them out."
Baltimore has belted nine homers in the first two games of the series. Jones clubbed a three-run homer on Friday, his third straight day with a long ball. Over his last five games, the center fielder has tallied nine hits. Reynolds has 11 hits, eight homers and 16 RBIs over his last eight contests.
"I don't know what I'm doing different now than I was earlier in the season," Reynolds said. "Just got that home run a couple of weeks ago, and [things] kind of started snowballing for me. I'm playing with a lot of confidence, and so is this whole team. We're all playing with confidence. We're having a lot of fun. We're excited to get the ballpark every day and see what the day holds."
Yankees: Sabathia piling up innings
Sabathia has tossed at least seven innings in each of his three starts since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 24.
"I can do a lot better, especially when we've been going through this tough time," Sabathia said. "Not holding a lead has been the biggest thing that has been bothering me. I look to go out, make pitches, and if I get a chance to get a lead, not give it up."
The 32-year-old said he feels no ill effects from his elbow injury.
"I feel pretty good," Sabathia said. "I've been playing catch every day, throwing my normal [bullpen sessions]. Like I said, the stuff has been there. My velocity has been there, the two-seamer is working, the changeup is a lot better, and I'm using that more now. I feel good."
Right-hander Ivan Nova could return from the disabled list as soon as Saturday, and he could even start on Sunday in place of Freddy Garcia, though neither Nova nor manager Joe Girardi suggested anything had been etched in stone.
"Right now, we haven't made any decisions," Girardi said. "We're on rotation."
Nova has been on the 15-day DL since Aug. 23 with inflammation in his right rotator cuff. He threw a 30-pitch bullpen session on Thursday at Camden Yards.
The Yankees expect to have first baseman Mark Teixeira back in the lineup on Saturday. He tested his strained left calf on Friday and said he felt better than 80 percent, but was advised to rest for one more day.
Orioles: Saunders to make third start with O's
Joe Saunders, who will toe the rubber for Baltimore on Saturday, has pitched at both ends of the spectrum since joining the Orioles in a trade with the D-backs late last month.
In his first start with the O's, the left-hander served up seven runs (six earned) on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings of an 8-1 loss to the White Sox. He rebounded on Monday, hurling 6 1/3 scoreless frames in a 4-0 victory against the Blue Jays, taking a perfect game into the sixth inning.
In his first start since coming off of the disabled list, Jason Hammel was struck in the right elbow by a line drive on Thursday night. Hammel said he was OK, however, and has no plans to miss his next start.
Yankees southpaw Andy Pettitte is scheduled to visit with a doctor on Monday in New York in hopes of being cleared to resume full baseball activities. He has been shelved since late June with a fractured left ankle.
Orioles skipper Buck Showalter said designated hitter Jim Thome could return to the team before the end of the season.
Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has hit safely in 11 consecutive games.
The O's recalled Jake Arrieta from Triple-A Norfolk on Friday. He's 3-9 with a 6.13 ERA in 18 starts for the Orioles this season.