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NYY@KC: Phelps strikes out five in first career start

Gaining control of the American League East is no easy feat, and lately, the Rays have made it especially difficult on the Yankees, who won the division crown last season. Yet after taking seven consecutive losses to Tampa Bay, New York finally got a grasp in what has turned into a stout rivalry. The Yankees hope that their 5-3 victory in Tuesday's series opener will be followed by more of their own momentum when rookie David Phelps opposes Jeff Niemann on Wednesday.

Phelps will make his second big league start after a rather brief but effective outing against the Royals last Thursday. The right-hander lasted only four innings but surrendered two earned runs on six hits with five strikeouts and no walks.

While Phelps has an opportunity to make his mark against a high-quality opponent in the Rays, losers of three straight, his performance -- for better or worse -- may carry little weight given the news that Andy Pettitte will return to the Yankees' starting rotation against the Mariners on Sunday. For now, manager Joe Girardi says no decision has been made regarding Phelps' future in the rotation.

"I don't want guys approaching this start going, 'Gosh, if I don't do well, this could be my last start,'" Girardi said. "I think probably people are going to write that enough that the manager doesn't need to say it. We're going to make a determination of what we feel is best for the club.

"We have guys that we want to go out and pitch very well, and we'll make a decision on Sunday who we're going to take out."

So far, Phelps has been valuable in his various roles, pitching to a 3.74 ERA with 19 strikeouts and seven walks in 21 2/3 innings.

Countering Phelps will be Niemann, who is looking to extend a solid start to his season and a strong history against the Yankees. Niemann, who is 2-3 with a 4.05 ERA this year, takes a career 3-0 record and 3.10 ERA against the Yankees into Wednesday's game. Despite the success, Niemann knows each time out against New York is a challenge.

"It's tough, because they definitely extended their at-bats with their discipline," Niemann said. "But at the same time, we can't stray too far from what we do. So it's just one of those things where we're going up there and keep making our pitch. Try and throw a lot of quality strikes down in the zone and execute the breaking balls, and let the defense do a lot of the work."

Niemann is 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in four career starts in the Bronx.

Rays: Jennings sidelined for now
• Desmond Jennings missed Tuesday's series opener against the Yankees with a sprained left knee, but he doesn't expect to miss much time or anticipate a trip to the disabled list. Jennings left Sunday's game in the second inning, and he believes he injured his knee while sliding into home. The speedy outfielder underwent an MRI exam on Monday that revealed the sprain.

"It feels better -- feels better than it did," Jennings said. "Every day. It's gotten better the last couple of days."

• The Rays' seven straight wins over the Yankees stood as the second-longest winning streak against New York by any team since the start of the 2008 season. Boston won nine in a row from September 2008 to June '09.

Yankees: Pettitte slated for Sunday
• Having made his sixth Minor League start, which came last Sunday for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pettitte will join the active roster for Sunday's return to the Majors.

"I think everybody is in agreement that he's not really going to benefit from any more time down below," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said on Tuesday.

Pettitte is 0-2 with a 3.71 ERA in four starts across three Minor League levels, with 13 strikeouts and three walks. His latest outing was a five-inning effort in which he allowed five runs (three earned) with five strikeouts and two walks.

• On Tuesday, David Robertson earned the Yankees' first save since last week's right knee injury to Mariano Rivera. It was the fourth career save for Robertson. The right-hander is also riding a streak of 26 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, dating back to Sept. 1, 2011 -- the longest active streak in the Majors.

Worth noting
• Carlos Pena has hit 23 home runs off Yankees pitchers from 2007-12, which is seven more than the next-closest total. David Ortiz has 16 home runs versus the Yankees during that stretch.

• Yankees pitchers have allowed 69 runs in the first three innings of games this season, and 63 runs thereafter. New York is 10-1 when scoring first and 6-12 when the opponent plates the first run. Comments