NEW YORK -- The Yankees moved back into a tie for first place Sunday as a result of Saturday's victory over the Pirates, but manager Joe Girardi isn't ready to declare mission accomplished.
The American League East is one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, and four teams went into Sunday's action within three games of first place. New York and Baltimore were deadlocked atop the division, but the Blue Jays were just a half-game back and the Yankees were set for a doubleheader on Sunday.
"Obviously, you pay attention to what the other teams are doing, but it's awful early to be thinking [about the standings]," said Girardi. "What have we played? 41 games? We only have 121 to go."
Yes, the Yankees are a quarter of the way through their schedule, and with a Sunday sweep, they can take exclusive control of first place for the first time since May 4. But Girardi expects a tight race all the way into September, and he doesn't want to celebrate a first-place berth in May.
The Yankees have managed an 11-9 record against division rivals this season, and they've logged a 10-10 record in their first 20 games at Yankee Stadium. New York is staying afloat despite a patchwork starting rotation, and Girardi was asked Sunday what his biggest impression of the season has been.
"Tommy John [surgeries] -- how many of those have there been?" Girardi said. "I think that when you think about what you see in baseball this year, there's a lot of teams right around .500. There's a lot of parity this year, and don't know if it's because of some of the injuries that are involved. There's a lot of parity involved, and that's probably the most interesting thing for me in the game today."
Ivan Nova is the only Yankee starter who has undergone Tommy John surgery this season, and he'll be out for the rest of the season. New York is also persevering through injuries to starting pitchers CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda, but both players are expected back within the next month.
Betances finding a home in Yankees' bullpen
NEW YORK -- Call it a healthy dichotomy. Dellin Betances isn't just thriving as a reliever; he's found a role that has enhanced his comfort and maximized his arsenal to best effect. Betances, a former starter, may just be settling into the bullpen, but he's struck out nine of the last 13 batters he faced.
And it's not a coincidence. Betances has a 1.85 ERA in 17 appearances as a reliever, and he said his velocity has consistently been higher out of the bullpen. The hulking right-hander may still be a work in transition, but he said he's learned a lot since first moving to a relief role last season.
"I'm learning from the guys down there," said Betances. "I've done it for a year now, since last year, and it feels good. It's just different. You have to go out and be aggressive in the strike zone."
Betances made 38 appearances for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season, and all but six of them came as a reliever. His success, however, didn't translate to the Majors. Betances scuffled in six relief appearances with the Yankees last year, and now, as a 26-year-old, he appears to finally get it.
"You only have to go out there for one or two innings, and you're not going to face the lineup more than one time," Betances said. "You've just got to go out there and give it your all."
The toughest part for most converted starters is staying healthy when pitching on a more regular basis, but Betances doesn't report any concerns in that department. In fact, Betances said Sunday that his arm has responded to a reduced workload and that the bullpen may ultimately be best for him.
"Honestly, I feel better now," Betances said. "Maybe it's because I'm used to throwing a lot of pitches, and now I'm not throwing as much. I guess that helps, but I've been able to recover well. I'm comfortable and I'm happy. I'm going out there and pitching more often and I'm helping the team win as much as I can."
Betances is one of the few Yankees relievers unavailable for Sunday's doubleheader, and manager Joe Girardi said he's done his best to protect his bullpen.
"He's been a starter. He's used to putting up innings," Girardi said Saturday. "And he's used to being a multiple-inning guy in the Minor Leagues. That's what he did a lot of when he was a reliever. What he didn't do a lot was throw two days in a row, and if you notice, I haven't done that a lot to him."
Girardi tasked with shuffling outfield in doubleheader
NEW YORK -- The Yankees have to use some creativity to fill out the lineup on Sunday. Manager Joe Girardi doesn't just have to manage his bullpen through a doubleheader on Sunday, he also has to deal with a fragile outfield picture that includes two veterans who are less than 100 percent.
Ichiro Suzuki played as a defensive replacement on Saturday, but prior to that appearance, he had been held out four games with a back injury. Jacoby Ellsbury missed Saturday's game with flu-like symptoms, but Girardi expects to be able to start both players in one of Sunday's games.
Brett Gardner led off and was the designated hitter in the first game, which meant that Ellsbury could handle center field. But Girardi said that Ellsbury would sit out the second game and Suzuki would start, and he made sure to give Gardner one game off his feet to avoid overtaxing him.
"I'm not going to play [Gardner] in the field both games," said Girardi. "I'm not going to play Jake [twice] after what he went through yesterday. Gardy will play center in the second game, and that way, you're not running anybody into the ground."
Ellsbury has been healthy this season, and he's one of just three Yankees -- along with Gardner and Alfonso Soriano -- who have played in 39 games this season. Suzuki is batting .364 in his first 31 games this season, and Girardi said Saturday that he was being cautious with the veteran.
The Yankees were able to make a callup to help fill out their roster Sunday, and they brought up reliever Jose Ramirez from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Ramirez, a right-hander, has a 2.70 ERA in three games at Triple-A. He didn't appear in either game and was sent back to Triple-A after the doubleheader.
Girardi said that his bullpen is relatively fresh, and he knows he has an off-day Monday to provide further rest.
"That makes it better," Girardi said. "When you're playing multiple days in a row after a doubleheader, it's kind of tough, because you know you're going to have to get some innings out of your bullpen."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.