Small will try to continue his perfect run in pinstripes and help the Yankees make up some ground in the AL East as New York opens a three-game series with the division-leading Red Sox at Yankee Stadium.
Small, recalled from Triple-A Columbus on July 20 to help fill out an injury-plagued starting rotation, has emerged as a revelation for the second-place Yankees. The 33-year-old right-hander, who had made just eight big league appearances since 1998, is 6-0 in 10 appearances, including five starts.
He was dropped from the rotation in mid-August after going 3-0 with a 2.67 ERA in four outings, but continued to provide solid work out of the bullpen before getting a start Saturday against Oakland. Small made the most of it, spinning a five-hitter for his first career shutout in a 7-0 victory over the Athletics.
“He’s become someone you rely on,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “We started the season with the starters we had and we certainly didn’t foresee this. You have some bad surprises with the injuries, and you can have some good ones like this.”
Torre will ask Small to give his team a lift in the series opener against the archrival Red Sox. New York has won each of the previous seven AL East titles, with Boston finishing second each time. But this year, the Red Sox hold a four-game lead, and it is the Yankees who are in pursuit.
New York’s main focus is making the postseason for an 11th straight season. With Thursday’s 7-4 loss to Tampa Bay, the Yankees fell a half-game behind surprising Cleveland in the AL wild-card race.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, failed to pad their cushion in the East, suffering a 3-0 home loss to the AL West-leading Los Angeles Angels on Thursday.
The Yankees may be without slugger Gary Sheffield this weekend. The MVP runner-up last season sat out Thursday with a strained left thigh muscle. He got hurt chasing Jonny Gomes’ triple Wednesday night, but doesn’t want to miss the Boston series.
“That would be devastating to me,” Sheffield said. “I should be able to come back quicker than if it was a hamstring. I’m going to get the anti-inflammatories and see how I feel tomorrow.”