Athletics-Yankees Preview

The New York Yankees have treaded water despite being without one of their top bats for nearly two months, though recent results suggest that Jacoby Ellsbury’s absence is starting to take its toll.

New York hopes Ellsbury’s return Wednesday night against the visiting Oakland Athletics can help provide a spark.

The Yankees (44-39) hold a 1 1/2-game lead over Baltimore and Toronto in the AL East, an advantage that has become increasingly precarious after dropping nine of 15. Though they’ve averaged 4.8 runs while going 22-21 since losing Ellsbury on May 19 to a sprained right knee, they’ve scored three runs or fewer in seven of eight. Ellsbury’s .324 average and 29 runs led the team before his injury.

New York had six hits in Tuesday’s 4-3, 10-inning loss to the A’s, with Dellin Betances surrendering the deciding home run to Brett Lawrie. The Yankees’ bullpen also figures to get a boost from the return of Andrew Miller, who will also be activated from the disabled list. Miller converted 17 of 17 save opportunities with a 1.03 ERA but hasn’t pitched since June 9 because of a strained forearm.

Ellsbury has his work cut out for him in his return against Oakland’s Scott Kazmir (5-5, 2.56 ERA). The left-hander is 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA in his last five starts, completing seven-plus innings four times. Given his performance this season – his ERA is the second-lowest of his career – and his expiring contract, Kazmir looks like a prime trade deadline target.

"He’s become a leader here the last couple years, by performance and in the clubhouse," manager Bob Melvin said. "When you’re that good, and we have the record that we do, there’s going to be speculation and there’s going to be guys talked about based on the fact they’re in the last year of their contract."

Kazmir will be trying to exorcise past road demons against the Yankees after going 1-4 with a 5.87 in seven starts, not winning since June 22, 2005. He’s also 0-3 with a 5.48 ERA in his last four road outings overall.

Ellsbury is 7 for 27 off Kazmir, while Mark Teixeira, 5 for 40 (.125) over his past 11 games, is 11 for 20 with two homers and four doubles.

New York counters with CC Sabathia (3-8, 5.59), who is 1-3 with an 8.49 ERA in six games in the Bronx. He’s been unable to prevent home runs regardless of where he’s pitching, and gave up two for the fourth time in five starts in a 4-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on June 29.

Though Sabathia has struggled to keep the ball in the park at times throughout his career, it’s become even more of an issue in recent years. He’s surrendered 1.29 homers per nine innings while going 35-31 since 2012. He was 176-96 previously while allowing 0.78 per nine.

The 19 home runs against him this year are among the most in the majors.

The Yankees used recent breaks in their schedule to push the left-hander back three days for polishing. He’s 19-14 with a 4.29 ERA in 50 career starts with six-plus days’ rest, and 0-2 with a 11.25 ERA in two this year.

Sabathia was taken deep by Lawrie and Billy Burns in a 5-4 loss at Oakland on May 28, giving up five runs in six innings. He’s allowed nine homers in his last seven matchups and is 8-11 with a 4.75 ERA in 28 career meetings.

Oakland (39-47), which has won 18 of the last 24 meetings, was the final team to win in extra innings this season.