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CLE@NYY: McCarthy fans eight over 6 1/3 innings

Despite an onslaught of injuries, the Yankees' starting rotation has not been a problem this year, not nearly as problematic as the inability to get consistent production from their offense.

They will enter a three-game series with the Rays at Tropicana Field on Friday on a four-game losing streak in which they have scored just seven runs. They rank near the bottom of the American League in runs, OPS and home runs after spending a combined $283 million to sign Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran as free agents this offseason.

"All teams have injuries, but when you lose four of your starting pitchers by the All-Star break, three by the first or second week in May -- it's going to have an impact on any club, in my opinion, regardless of how good their farm system is," said Hal Steinbrenner, the team's managing general partner, who spoke with reporters at the quarterly Owners Meetings in Baltimore.

"That's certainly been part of it. But we put a lot of money into the offense as well, and they have been, as a whole, inconsistent. It's been a problem. And it needs to change, needless to say."

The Yankees are hoping their offense will eventually come to life, and their postseason hopes are riding on it.

Brandon McCarthy will make the start in the opener against the Rays. He took his first loss as a member of the Yankees in his last start despite a solid outing -- two runs on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings -- but New York was shut out.

The Rays have the ability to make a huge impact on the race for the American League East, considering all but nine of their remaining games are against teams from their division.

"That's all you can ask for really, being able to have some sort of say-so about what's going to take place in late September," said Alex Cobb, Friday's starter. "And being able to give yourself and the team a chance to be in the race as much as we can control. I think the schedule set up purposely that way, so you're facing teams in your division. And it makes for a more interesting race down the stretch."

Earlier in the year, he was struggling with his mechanics but Cobb seems to have put those issues behind him. In his last three starts, he is 1-0 with a 1.83 ERA with 22 strikeouts.

Yankees: Tanaka throws off flat ground
Masahiro Tanaka fired 10 fastballs across flat ground on Wednesday afternoon, another important step if he plans to return to the mound this year.

"It's feeling really good," he said through an interpreter. "Really, I didn't feel anything special compared to just regular tossing. I thought everything went well."

Tanaka still needs to advance to throwing bullpen sessions and batting practice before he faces hitters in rehab games, but he is still eyeing a return in September.

"That's our hope," manager Joe Girardi said. "We wouldn't be going through this if we didn't expect him to pitch for us. Our hope is he'll pitch in September."

Rays: Heading home
The Rays start a six-game homestand Friday night beginning a stretch in which they will play 29 of their next 32 against AL East opponents and 28 of their next 32 against teams currently over .500.

They have gone 19-10 in their 29 games against teams over .500, won seven of their last 11 at home and are 11-9 since June 25 after getting off to a 16-23 start at Tropicana Field.

Worth noting
• Tampa's legendary high school baseball coach Pop Cuesta will throw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday night. Cuesta announced his retirement this year after 43 years as coach of Tampa's Jefferson High School where he coached former Rays Fred McGriff and Tino Martinez.

• The Yankees are planning to activate catcher Brian McCann on Saturday when he is eligible to come off the seven-day concussion disabled list.

• McCarthy is 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA in 10 career games against the Rays.

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