The two highest-paid teams in baseball are both still playing below expectations.
Less than two weeks after the Tigers swept New York in the Bronx, the Yankees will try to return the favor at Comerica Park, as left-hander Kei Igawa makes his season debut Friday to kick off a three-game series.
Still playing without injured starters Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada, the Yankees (18-18) had only scored three total runs in dropping the first two games of a three-game set against Cleveland this week, but a number of their slumping hitters broke out as New York avoided a sweep with a 6-4 win Thursday.
Johnny Damon had started the series 0-for-9 and called the offense “pitiful” after Wednesday’s 3-0 loss, but Damon’s fourth-inning home run in the finale started the Yankees’ power surge.
Jason Giambi and Robinson Cano - who are both hitting under .175 - both homered, while Wilson Betemit added his first home run of the year after missing three weeks with conjunctivitis. Hideki Matsui also had two singles to extend his career-best hitting streak to 17 games.
“I think we’re going to be fine,” Damon said.
The Tigers (15-21) - who have the major leagues’ second-highest payroll behind New York - may have more doubts about their status after dropping six of their last seven games.
Their scuffling offense put together a ninth-inning rally to beat Boston 10-9 on Wednesday, but Detroit’s bats were quiet again Thursday as ace Justin Verlander struggled in a 5-1 loss to the Red Sox. In four of the last seven games, the Tigers have either scored one run or been shut out.
Kenny Rogers - who started the Tigers’ three-game sweep of New York with a win on April 29 - will start again Friday. Rogers (2-3, 6.27 ERA) is 2-0 in his last four starts, but the 43-year-old has failed to make it through seven innings in any start and has allowed 22 earned runs in 26 2-3 innings in his last five outings.
He’ll be happy to see a Yankees lineup without Rodriguez and Posada, who are a combined 18-for-35 with seven home runs against him. He took advantage of that situation last month, giving up two runs in six innings and earning his first regular-season win against New York in 12 starts and nearly 15 years.
“They’ve had me for a while,” Rogers said, “so hopefully it’ll be my turn for a while - for whatever time is left.”
The Tigers went on to outscore the Yankees 20-10 in the series - their first three-game sweep at Yankee Stadium since 1966.
“We caught Detroit at the wrong time,” Damon said after that series. “Maybe when we go there we can repay them.”
They’ll have to begin behind Igawa, who was called up from Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre with Phil Hughes on the disabled list and Ian Kennedy in the minors. As a major league rookie last year, Igawa was sent to the minors twice, finishing the season with a 2-3 record and 6.25 ERA for New York.
He struggled to find the strike zone and keep the ball in the park in 2007, walking 37 and allowing 15 homers in just 67 2-3 innings. He’s 3-3 with a 3.86 ERA this year at Triple-A, walking 12 in 39 2-3 innings.
“I thought as spring went on, he got better and better,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi told his team’s official Web site. “He got better pitching down with his fastball. I thought he got better at attacking the zone.”
The Yankees and Tigers don’t meet again this year after this weekend’s series.