Yankees visit Rangers in clash of red-hot pitchers

ARLINGTON, Texas — The Texas Rangers open a must-win series Friday with their pitcher most likely to win on the mound.

Left-hander Martin Perez (11-10, 4.87 ERA) has been one of the keys to the Rangers’ resurgence in the wild-card playoff picture. Perez has matched a career high by winning his past six starts heading into his outing against the New York Yankees.

The Rangers will need Perez and the rest of the Rangers to be at full strength. The Friday game starts a huge homestretch for Texas that includes series against the Yankees, the Seattle Mariners and the Los Angeles Angels, all teams that are fighting for the two American League wild-card berths.

Texas manager Jeff Banister has no doubt his team club be ready to get the homestand started on a big note.

“Our guys continue to stay engaged, continue to battle,” said Banister, whose team comes into the series following a Thursday off day after splitting a doubleheader in Atlanta on Wednesday. “It’s a challenge. I feel like our guys are playing well. We’ll get ready for New York on Friday.”

Perez hasn’t backed into any wins during his current hot streak. He has a 3.15 ERA in that span, which has allowed him to drop his overall ERA by more than half a run. He already has set a career high for wins.

Perez will have to buck a limited history against the Yankees to become the first Texas pitcher to win seven straight starts since Kenny Rogers in 2005. Perez has faced the Yankees twice, going 1-1 with a whopping 12.86 ERA. In his last start against New York in 2015, he retired only three batters.

The Yankees counter with right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (11-10, 4.54 ERA). Like Perez, Tanaka is on a roll. He has won three consecutive starts, pitching seven innings in each and allowing a total of five runs. One of his best starts this year came against Texas on June 23, when he struck out nine over eight scoreless innings in a no-decision.

In three career starts against Texas, Tanaka is 0-1 with a 4.50 ERA.

Tanaka will have a lineup behind him that is at full strength. The Yankees are coming off a series win against Baltimore after losing 11 straight series to the Orioles at Camden Yards. New York will have catcher Gary Sanchez back in the lineup, too, as he is returning from a three-game suspension for his part in a brawl at Detroit on Aug. 24.

“We’ve been playing our ballgame,” Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge told Newsday after New York’s 9-1 victory over Baltimore on Thursday. “Just kind of passing the baton, getting those clutch hits with runners on.”

That approach has worked recently as New York has scored 22 runs in its last three games.

Judge hit his 39th home run of the season Thursday, tying him with Oakland’s Khris Davis for the American League lead. It was Judge’s second home run in four games after he went 15 contests without one.