The New York Yankees still have plenty of work to do if they want to secure home-field advantage throughout the AL playoffs.
They’ll try to hold onto the best record in the AL on Sunday when they continue a four-game series against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays at Tropicana Field.
New York (93-61) has already locked up its ninth straight AL East title. It still needs to clinch the best record to ensure home-field advantage and has a slim one-half game lead over AL Central leader Detroit.
However, the Yankees are also trying to get ready for the postseason by giving key starters some rest. Center fielder Johnny Damon missed his third straight game in Saturday’s 8-0 loss due to a sore left hand, although he expects to be back Sunday.
“We’re trying to let the hole in my hand heal up,” Damon said. “The hole I have is pretty deep. I plan to play (Sunday). Guaranteed.”
Gary Sheffield made his second straight start at first base for New York after being sidelined since May 29 due to wrist surgery. Sheffield is getting experience at first base in case Jason Giambi is not healthy enough to play the position in the postseason.
Giambi has had three cortisone shots within the last month for a left wrist injury.
Sheffield is hitless in five at-bats since returning, although he committed his first error at his new position Saturday.
Yankees manager Joe Torre indicated closer Mariano Rivera will pitch Sunday, regardless of the score. Rivera was given a night off after striking out the side in the ninth inning Friday in his first appearance since Aug. 31 after being out with a strained right forearm.
“I’ll pitch Sunday,” Rivera said. “And the playoffs will be normal. I’ll do whatever I have to do.”
Mike Mussina (14-6, 3.57 ERA) makes his final road start of the season and first at Tropicana Field this year. Mussina has won five straight starts against Tampa Bay while posting a 1.57 ERA, including all three starts this year at Yankee Stadium.
The 16-year veteran right-hander has not pitched since last Sunday, when he allowed two runs over six innings in a 5-4 loss to Boston.
Devil Rays left fielder Carl Crawford is batting .216 (8-for-37) in his career against Mussina.
Ty Wigginton homered and drove in three runs Saturday as Tampa Bay (59-95) ended a five-game losing streak to New York and improved to 4-12 in the season series.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon believes his inexperienced group learns a lot by playing the high-powered Yankees.
“There’s a lot to draw from them as a young group,” he said. “I think we are watching, but we do point different things out at different times.”
Brian Stokes (0-0, 6.94) makes his third career start for the Devil Rays. Stokes gave up two runs and seven hits over five innings Sunday in a 5-3 loss to Toronto.
The right-hander, who was recalled from Triple-A Durham on Sept. 2, is making his first career start against the Yankees, who tagged him for five runs and five hits over 2 2-3 innings of a relief appearance on Sept. 12.