Damon puts burden on his shoulders

Damon puts Yankees' burden on his shoulders

NEW YORK -- The Yankees will try to avoid the second three-game sweep of the current homestand when they take the field on Thursday against the Indians, and Johnny Damon doesn't mind being held personally responsible for the position in which the team finds itself.

"We weren't too good, and it starts with me," Damon said. "The last two nights, I haven't been able to do anything. It shows ... when [Derek] Jeter comes up; it's a big difference. I just wish I could get it going every single night, because I know it makes it a lot easier on the rest of the guys."

Damon, 0-for-9 in the Cleveland series, with two strikeouts, called the Yankees' offense "pitiful" over their last 18-inning period. New York managed just three runs -- none on Wednesday against lefty Cliff Lee and two relievers -- while wasting quality starts from both Andy Pettitte and Chien-Ming Wang.

The Yankees, who were swept at home by the Tigers from April 29 to May 1, hope to avoid that same fate on Thursday in sending right-hander Mike Mussina to the hill opposite right-hander Paul Byrd.

Mussina has won three consecutive starts after an in-print critique from Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner, last defeating the Mariners on Saturday in New York with a season-high five strikeouts through six innings of one-run ball.

That Seattle series produced a sweep, and Jeter doesn't believe that the team has played all that differently in the Cleveland games.

"We've played well against Seattle, and I thought we played well [on Tuesday], but they stole one from us," Jeter said, referring to David Dellucci's pinch-hit three-run homer off Joba Chamberlain. "I like our chances if we're in that position more often than not.

"[On Wednesday] we just didn't score any runs. I really think we've been playing pretty good, even though we lost two games we'd obviously like to win."

Needless to say, the Yankees' offense features a void without Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada present. Though Rodriguez is expected to be activated by May 15 or May 16, the Yankees altered his timetable slightly after Wednesday's game to allow him to have an MRI performed on his strained right quadriceps before he begins a Minor League rehab assignment in Tampa.

Knowing that Rodriguez's return is on the horizon helps somewhat, but Posada is still weeks away, and neither will be able to help as Mussina walks to the mound on Thursday.

"They're very good players. We can't control that," Damon said. "Fortunately, we're probably only going to miss [Alex] for a total of 20 games, and hopefully he'll be ready right after this 15-day stint. Posada is another story. What we lack in Posada's bat, we gain in [Jose] Molina's arm and catching abilities."

Pitching matchup
NYY: RHP Mike Mussina (4-3, 4.23 ERA)
Mussina will be in search of his fourth straight victory when he takes the mound on the final day of this homestand. He beat the Tribe in Cleveland on Saturday, working five innings and giving up two runs on seven hits. Mussina, who is 12-9 lifetime against Cleveland, has been a master of control to date this season, yielding just five walks in 38 1/3 innings. His last start, his seventh, was the first in which he didn't give up a home run.

CLE: RHP Paul Byrd (1-2, 3.74 ERA)
Byrd was magnificent against the Mariners in his last start, on May 1, holding them scoreless on just four hits, with a walk and four strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. He has really turned his season around after two brutal starts to open it. Byrd has a 1.71 ERA over his last four starts but only one win and three no-decisions to show for it because of shaky support. He is 0-2 with a 3.46 ERA in four career regular-season starts in Yankee Stadium.

Tidbits
Hideki Matsui has a 16-game hitting streak, tying his career high. The string is currently the longest in the American League. ... Jeter had five at-bats in Wednesday's game, giving him 7,550 for his career. That surpasses Yogi Berra (7,546) for fourth place on New York's all-time list. ... Mariano Rivera needs one appearance to become the 39th player in Major League history to reach 800.

Tickets
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On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• YES

On radio
• WCBS 880, WNSW 1430 (Español)

Up next
• Friday: Yankees (Kei Igawa, 0-0, -.--) at Tigers (Kenny Rogers, 2-3, 6.27), 7:05 p.m. ET
• Saturday: Yankees (Darrell Rasner, 1-0, 3.00) at Tigers (Jeremy Bonderman, 2-3, 4.17), 3:40 p.m. ET
• Sunday: Yankees (Andy Pettitte, 3-3, 3.77) at Tigers (Nate Robertson, 1-4, 6.64), 1:05 p.m. ET

Bryan Hoch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.