(AP) — Although the New York Yankees are on the brink of losing their AL East lead, the team will also be concerned with a pair of individual performances Monday night at Yankee Stadium.
Alex Rodriguez hopes a return home helps him finally hit his 600th home run, and A.J. Burnett looks to continue his recent resurgence against his former team as the Toronto Blue Jays visit the Bronx.
The Yankees (66-38) dropped two of three over the weekend at Tampa Bay, watching their division lead slip to one game over the surging Rays.
While newly acquired players Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns didn’t help New York’s stagnant offense during Sunday’s 3-0 loss, much of the focus Monday will remain on Rodriguez, who has gone 10 games without a homer since hitting No. 599 against Kansas City on July 22.
The three-time MVP, who called his swing “out of whack,” was out of the starting lineup Sunday, striking out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning and finishing 0 for 8 in the series.
“He’s played 13 days in a row,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “We’ve got to make sure that we keep him healthy and strong. My key is keeping our guys healthy the rest of the way.”
Burnett (9-8, 4.52 ERA) is likely eager to get back on the mound after working 6 1-3 innings Wednesday in an 8-0 win at Cleveland. The right-hander went 3-1 with a 2.00 ERA in July after going 0-5 with an 11.35 ERA in June.
“This was the best I’ve felt in a long while. Tempo is important,” Burnett said Wednesday. “The ball was coming out of my hand good. I hope to keep this tempo for the rest of the year.”
Burnett is 1-2 with a 4.32 ERA in five starts against Toronto since leaving the Blue Jays via free agency before last season. But his best start in that stretch came at Yankee Stadium on July 2, when he pitched 6 2-3 scoreless innings during New York’s 6-1, 11-inning defeat.
The Yankees hope to improve on their 3-3 record against the Blue Jays this season, with Monday the first of 12 remaining meetings between the clubs.
Toronto (54-51) will be looking to avoid a third consecutive loss after dropping the final two games of its weekend series with Cleveland, and the schedule is about to get considerably tougher for the Blue Jays, who play their next nine games against the Yankees, Tampa Bay and Boston.
“It’s experience for these guys to get them ready to move on and be ready to play in those sort of situations,” manager Cito Gaston told the Blue Jays’ official website.
Brandon Morrow (7-6, 4.62) will be looking to win a third consecutive start for the Blue Jays, but he’ll have to face the best team in the majors after beating major league-worst Baltimore in his last two outings.
The right-hander is 1-0 with a 2.84 ERA in four career starts against New York, but he’s 1-5 with a 6.23 ERA in 10 road outings this season.
Rodriguez has more at-bats against Morrow than any other active hitter, going 4 for 15 with a home run and five strikeouts.
Homers continue to come easily for Toronto, which had three in a 5-4 loss Sunday, boosting its major league-leading total to 161.
Jose Bautista, who is 3 for 4 with two homers and two walks against Burnett, leads the majors with 32 homers and is 15 for 30 with six homers and 14 RBIs in his last eight games.
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