Tampa Bay Rays starters have not allowed more than two runs during a sparkling nine-game stretch.
That’s bad news for a New York Yankees team struggling to score as it seeks to avoid its first six-game slide in over three years.
The Rays will send Drew Smyly to the mound in his home debut Saturday when they look to defeat the Yankees for the sixth straight meeting.
Tampa Bay starters are 6-0 with a 0.90 ERA during a 7-2 stretch for the club. Alex Cobb went 7 1-3 innings in Friday’s 5-0 victory to open this three-game set as the Rays (61-61) reached the .500 mark for the first time since April 22.
"Really proud of the boys," manager Joe Maddon said. "It was not easy."
The last time Tampa Bay had a winning record was April 13, when it was 7-6. The Rays are the first team to reach .500 after being 18 games below since the 2006 Florida Marlins, who were managed by current Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
Girardi has other things on his mind with New York (61-59) matching its longest 2014 losing streak. His club has totaled seven runs in this slide while batting .174 and striking out 46 times.
The Yankees’ last six-game skid was May 11-16, 2011.
Smyly (7-10, 3.73 ERA) was the last Rays starter to lose Aug. 5 in his team debut at Oakland. He bounced back by earning his first Tampa Bay victory Monday by striking out nine in a career-high 7 2-3 innings in a 7-0 win at Texas.
The left-hander yielded one run over six innings in a 7-5 win at New York for Detroit on April 28, 2012, in his lone start against the Yankees. Ichiro Suzuki, who has not started New York’s last three games, is 3 for 7 against him.
James Loney went 2 for 4 with a homer Friday, improving to 7 for 13 with five RBIs in his last three games. He’s batting .419 with 10 RBIs in the season series, with the Rays winning eight of 11 matchups.
"I’m feeling pretty good," Loney said. "My thing is be ready to hit every time. You’re not going to get your pitch every time but my thing is try to be consistent with that."
This could be a special moment for Yankees rookie starter Shane Greene (3-1, 2.89), who grew up in Lake County, about a 90-minute drive away from St. Petersburg. He has never faced the Rays.
Greene has not pitched since Aug. 7 when he went a season-high eight-plus innings to earn a 1-0 home victory over the Tigers. The right-hander threw 64 of 99 pitches for strikes.
"To be able to continue to pound the strike zone with quality pitches. That’s impressive," Girardi said.
Francisco Cervelli has been Greene’s batterymate in the pitcher’s six starts but regular catcher Brian McCann is eligible to return off the seven-day concussion disabled list.
"He said he feels good and that’s good to hear from our standpoint but obviously doctors evaluate it, not managers," said Girardi about McCann.
New York’s Carlos Beltran is 1 for 18 in this slide while Jacoby Ellsbury is hitless in his last 11 at-bats.