Yankees take on Red Sox, Sale

NEW YORK — Greg Bird was rehabbing a right ankle injury for the first six meetings between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.

He carried a .191 average and several frustrating at-bats into Friday’s series opener. Then he slugged two homers and possibly gave the Yankees something to think about with the first baseman’s playing time against left-handers Chris Sale and David Price and the final two games.

While Bird could get the game off, his New York temmates will get a crack at solving Sale on Saturday night in the second game of three-game series against Boston at Yankee Stadium.

Bird posted his second career multi-homer game and the Yankees opened the series by hitting four homers in an 8-1 rout on Friday. After homering twice, Bird is batting 204 (19-for-93) in 29 games since coming off the disabled list.

“Perhaps, I think about that a little bit,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “It was really good to see Birdie impact the ball. I was happy for him and that’s something that can kind of jump-start him a little bit because what we believe he brings is that left-handed on-base, power guy in this ballpark.”

If Bird is in the lineup, he will be getting his first career at-bats against Sale. If Bird is not in the lineup, it could be Brandon Drury or Neil Walker at first base.

Regardless if Bird plays, the Yankees were glad to see him homer to left-center field and right-center field against Eduardo Rodriguez in the fifth and Justin Haley in the eighth.

“It’s only a matter of time,” Yankees right-fielder Aaron Judge said of Bird. “It takes a lot of time to kind of get in that groove.”

Sale is 7-4 with a 2.56 ERA this season but rolling of late.

He is 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his last three starts and in the last four starts has totaled 43 strikeouts in 28 innings while allowing a paltry .155 average.

Sale last pitched Sunday when he allowed four hits and struck out 13 in a 5-0 win over the Seattle Mariners. Sale posted his second straight double-digit strikeout game, sixth this season and ended the outing by fanning Mike Zunino with a 100.5 mph fastball — the fastest pitch of his career.

This season as the Red Sox attempt to keep Sale fresh for the final months of the year, his velocity is steadily increasing. His average fastball was 92.5 in April, 95.6 in May and 97.0 this month.

“I think it’s just getting back into a little bit better rhythm,” Sale said of his increase in velocity. “I’ve been saying the same thing over the last three or four starts — it’s feeling good and getting into that tempo and getting back into a little bit better rhythm than I had been starting the year. I put a lot of work into it. I’m glad where we’re at.”

If Sale posts double-digit strikeouts Saturday, it will mark the fourth time he has at least 10 strikeouts in three straight games.

“A lot of people get caught up on strikeouts,” Sale said. “They’re nice, but at the end of the day your job is to pitch as deep into that game as you can and keep as few runs off the board (as possible).”

Sale enters the game with 153 strikeouts, two ahead of Houston’s Gerrit Cole for the league lead. He also is hoping to see his teammates produce a better offensive showing after losing for the second time in eight games.

The left-hander faced the Yankees on April 10 in a 14-1 win at Fenway Park. He is 5-4 with a 1.73 ERA in 16 appearances (13 starts) against the Yankees.

While Mookie Betts was 2-for-4 and had his 25th multi-hit game, J.D. Martinez was 0-for-4 and is now hitless in his last nine at-bats.

New York will counter with Sonny Gray, who is 5-5 with a 4.93 ERA.

Gray is 2-1 with a 3.23 ERA in his last five starts since lasting 3 2/3 innings in an 11-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels on May 26. His last outing was last Saturday in Tampa Bay when he allowed four runs and six hits in 6 2/3 innings of a 4-0 loss.

Gray faced the Red Sox on April 12 in Boston when he allowed six runs and seven hits in a season-low three innings of a 6-3 loss. Since joining the Yankees, he is 0-3 with a 7.20 ERA in three starts against the Red Sox. For his career, Gray is 1-5 with a 5.97 ERA in seven games against Boston.