New York (56-39) at Toronto (54-43)

Heavy Thunderstorm/Windy Currently: Toronto, ON
Temp: 70° F
  • Game info: 1:07 pm EDT Sun Jul 23, 2006
  • TV: YES, RSN
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The New York Yankees hope they can make up ground in the AL East and get Alex Rodriguez back on track Sunday when they try to salvage a split of their four-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The Yankees (56-39) are 2 1/2 games behind the division-leading Boston Red Sox and three ahead of the third-place Blue Jays (54-43). Boston closes a three-game series at Seattle on Sunday.

Derek Jeter drew a bases-loaded walk in the seventh inning to drive in the go-ahead run in Saturday’s 5-4 victory. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for the Yankees, who also played an error-free game for the first time in their last seven contests.

“I’m just happy we were able to stop this slide,” Yankees manager Joe Torre said. “If you win five games in a row, you just don’t want to give it back right away.”

The halting of the sloppy defensive streak may have been helped by Rodriguez being used as a designated hitter Saturday until the ninth inning. But the reigning AL Most Valuable Player went 0-for-4 with four strikeouts, the first time he has struck out four times in a game since June 22, 1995.

Rodriguez, who played third base in the ninth and caught a pop-up for the final out, has five errors in the last six games.

“It’s just like hitting. You go through little funks,” Rodriguez said.

The two-time AL MVP’s 18 errors lead the league and are six shy of his career-high set in 1997 with the Seattle Mariners while playing shortstop.

“It’s definitely mechanics,” Rodriguez said. “It really becomes staying on top of the baseball. Pitchers, catchers, everybody does it at some point. You’ve just got to get your target, get your footwork and stay on top of the baseball.”

He arrived at the Rogers Centre at 11 a.m. Saturday for extra defensive work, one hour before the team bus left the hotel.

Rodriguez’s fielding woes may be contributing to an offensive slump. He has just two home runs and seven RBIs in his last 16 games, striking out 18 times. He did record his 450th career homer and 2,000th career hit in Friday’s 7-3 loss.

“He’s just struggling right now,” Torre said of Rodriguez. “He’s striking out. He’s swinging and missing at some pitches that he hits.”

Another player the Yankees hope can get on track is Sidney Ponson (0-0, 5.40 ERA), who has not won in eight starts. The right-hander will make his second start for New York since being signed as a free agent on July 14 after being released by the St. Louis Cardinals a day earlier.

He allowed four runs and five hits in 6 2-3 innings of the Yankees’ 11-inning, 5-4 win Tuesday over Seattle in an encouraging debut. He started the season 4-0 with St. Louis before dropping four consecutive decisions and being designated for assignment.

The nine-year veteran is 7-9 with a 4.27 ERA in 17 starts against the Blue Jays, but is 4-2 with a 2.28 ERA in seven outings at the Rogers Centre. His last visit was his worst game there, getting tagged for six runs in 5 1-3 innings for the Baltimore Orioles in a 6-2 loss June 23, 2005.

The Blue Jays (54-43) hope they can take advantage of him again at home as the current roster is hitting .320 against him, with Frank Catalanotto going 12-for-36 (.333).

The left fielder went 3-for-4 with a double in Saturday’s loss and is hitting .462 in the series. His .331 batting average leads the team.

Toronto will send Shaun Marcum (0-0, 3.18), who looks to build on his first career start. The 24-year-old right-hander pitched five scoreless innings Tuesday, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out five in Toronto’s 5-2 loss to the Texas Rangers.

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Starting Pitchers

S. Ponson KC vs. S. Marcum Cle
4-5 Record 3-4
6.25 ERA 5.06
48 K 65
36 BB 38
1.69 WHIP 1.60