Even if David Huff rises up to the challenge of turning in a decent effort in his first 2013 start, it may not matter given the way the New York Yankees' bullpen is performing.
The visiting Boston Red Sox have struck late to take the first two games of this four-game set as they look for a fifth straight win Saturday.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi decided this week to pull 13-game loser Phil Hughes out of his rotation in favor of Huff (2-0, 3.32 ERA) on Saturday.
Hughes, however, was part of a major meltdown by the Yankees bullpen in Friday's 12-8 loss. Starter Andy Pettitte left after six innings with an 8-3 lead before Boston (86-57) scored nine runs over the seventh and eight innings off four relievers.
One night earlier, the Yankees were one strike away from an 8-7 victory before closer Mariano Rivera suffered his sixth blown save in a 9-8, 10-inning loss. Rivera pitched for the third straight night and was unavailable Friday.
"We've been dealing with this all year long,'' Girardi said. "So it's a chance for other guys to step up, and they're going to get an opportunity."
Mike Napoli hit a tying grand slam in the seventh inning off Boone Logan. Shane Victorino then gave the Red Sox the lead for good with a two-run homer in the eighth after he drove in the eventual winning run Thursday with a single.
"We never feel like we're out of it,'' manager John Farrell said.
The news got even worse for the Yankees with Logan exiting with tightness in the back of his elbow, one batter after serving up Napoli's slam. Top setup man David Robertson is expected to be sidelined five or six days with tendinitis in the back of his right shoulder and Shawn Kelley is out until next week because of inflammation in his triceps.
New York (75-66) fell behind Baltimore and Cleveland as those three teams try to catch Tampa Bay in the race for the AL's second wild card. The Yankees have dropped nine of 14 to the first-place Red Sox.
Huff, who went 17-26 with a 5.41 ERA in 52 starts with Cleveland between 2009-12, is tasked with trying to slow down a Boston team that has won 11 of 13.
"I'm just here to basically help them out, whether it's an inning out of the bullpen or whatever, if it's a start, great," Huff said. "This time it is so I'm really happy about it."
The right-hander is 0-2 with a 1.65 ERA in three career starts against the Red Sox. He has faced one Boston hitter this season - Jacoby Ellsbury.
Ellsbury, who leads the majors with 52 steals, sat out Friday with a sore right foot. Farrell said he was hopeful the center fielder will return Saturday.
Huff will have to be careful with Will Middlebrooks, who has homered in three straight games for the first time and is 7 for 15 with six RBIs in that span.
The Yankees haven't lost three straight since a four-game slide Aug. 4-7 as they face veteran right-hander John Lackey (8-12, 3.22), who is 1-4 with a 3.19 ERA during a five-start stretch in which Boston has totaled 13 runs.
The lone victory was a 6-1 win over the Yankees on Aug. 17 in which he yielded one run over 6 2-3 innings. His other start against New York was a 5-2 road loss July 20 in which he allowed four runs in 6 1-3 innings.
Alfonso Soriano, who homered Friday, is a .152 hitter against Lackey while Alex Rodriguez is at .183 with 26 strikeouts in 60 at-bats. Lackey has faced Ichiro Suzuki 108 times - the most he has seen any hitter, with the right fielder hitting .287.
Boston's Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who has missed four consecutive games with a sore back, could return Saturday.