The Boston Red Sox are trying to create some breathing room atop the AL East, and getting Clay Buchholz back could help them do that.
Buchholz returns from a brief injury absence looking to become the first Red Sox starter to go 8-0 in five years Sunday night in the conclusion of this three-game set with the slumping New York Yankees.
Boston (34-23) regained a two-game lead in the East with an 11-1 victory Saturday after falling 4-1 in the series opener a day earlier.
Sending Buchholz (7-0, 1.73 ERA), owner of the AL's lowest ERA, to the mound should improve the team's chances of winning its second consecutive series at Yankee Stadium.
The right-hander is also trying to become the first Red Sox starter to win his first eight decisions in a season since Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2008.
Buchholz missed his latest attempt at his eighth victory Monday, when he was scratched from his scheduled start with irritation in his collarbone area. The layoff seems to have helped.
"The place I originally felt the stiffness, it's pretty much gone," said Buchholz, who last pitched May 22. "It's just the soreness from, like I said Wednesday, from messing around and pulling and tugging with the muscles in the training room, but no, it just feels muscular. In the bullpen, I threw pretty much max effort. The ball came out of my hand a lot better there too.
"I'm ready to get back out there. It's hard sitting around watching your team battling and trying to win games and not being a part of it."
He was outstanding in his most recent start in the Bronx, allowing one run over seven innings of a 7-4 win April 3. However, he's 3-2 with a 6.34 ERA in six career outings there.
"It's a tough place to pitch sometimes, but when you can go out there and win two out of three games, it definitely gives your team a boost," said Buchholz, who is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA in four road starts this year.
Boston's offense rebounded Saturday after it was shut down by CC Sabathia on Friday, collecting a season-high 18 hits with four doubles and three homers. Mike Napoli accounted for three of those hits, including his second grand slam of the season.
Daniel Nava matched career highs with four hits and four RBIs. He's batting .328 with 13 RBIs over his past 16 games.
Saturday's loss was the sixth in seven games for the Yankees (31-24), who have averaged 2.1 runs and hit .224 during that span.
Robinson Cano can't be blamed for the anemic offense since he's 9 for 28 (.321) over the past seven games. However, he's 2 for 18 in five season meetings with Boston.
With the bats scuffling, New York could use another strong performance from Hiroki Kuroda (6-3, 2.39), who has won four straight home starts behind a 0.90 ERA.
The right-hander was superb on the road Tuesday, striking out seven over seven scoreless innings against the Mets. He was in line for the win before Mariano Rivera faltered in the ninth inning of a 2-1 loss.
Kuroda is 2-1 with a 2.59 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, but he exited his most recent after being hit in the hand by a line drive April 3. He allowed two runs while hitting two batters in 1 1-3 innings opposite Buchholz.
One of those hit batters was Nava, who is 3 for 9 against Kuroda while being plunked three times.
Dustin Pedroia is 7 for 15 with a home run off Kuroda.