By JEFF BARTL
(AP) — The New York Yankees’ offense has picked an inconvenient time to be mired in a slump as the club heads into a prime opportunity to make up ground in the AL East race.
New York looks to bounce back against Baltimore starter Bud Norris as it begins a crucial three-game series against the first-place Orioles at Camden Yards on Monday night.
The Yankees (61-56) had won six of seven after beating Cleveland 10-6 on Friday, but they were shut down by Corey Kluber in Saturday’s 3-0 defeat and managed only Jacoby Ellsbury’s ninth-inning homer in a 4-1 loss Sunday.
Ellsbury connected with two outs, preventing New York from being shut out in back-to-back games for the first time since 1999. Mark Teixeira played for the first time in four games because of an injured left pinkie and had one of the Yankees’ five hits.
New York is six games back of Baltimore (67-49) in the division and 2 1/2 behind Kansas City for the second AL wild-card spot.
“Not really sure (what went wrong),” manager Joe Girardi said. “You learn it’s going to happen and you deal with it.”
The Yankees have been outscored 44-25 while dropping six of nine to the Orioles this season, and facing Norris (9-7, 3.68 ERA) will likely present another tough challenge for their lineup.
Norris pitched seven innings in Baltimore’s 1-0, 13-inning victory over the Los Angeles Angels on July 31, then was staked to a four-run lead and allowed two runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 9-3 win over Toronto on Tuesday.
The right-hander is 5-2 with a 2.64 ERA in his last eight outings.
“It’s a lot easier to pitch with a lead, when you’ve got more of a cushion,” Norris said. “When you have a cushion, you can attack the strike zone that much more. It helps the starting pitcher and even the bullpen.”
The Orioles provided Norris with early runs June 21 as he allowed one in five innings of a 6-1 victory over New York. That was his only career start against the Yankees, and he’ll look to help get his club back on track after it fell 8-3 to St. Louis on Sunday.
Baltimore had won six of seven after outscoring the Cardinals 22-5 with nine homers while taking the first two games of the series. Sunday marked the first time in nine games the Orioles failed to go deep, and rookie Caleb Joseph’s five-game home run streak was snapped.
Manager Buck Showalter tried to downplay the importance of this series against the Yankees due to the amount of games left to be played.
“We don’t really look at it quite the way everybody else does,” Showalter said. “It’s significant because they’re one of the teams we’ve got to be better than when the smoke clears.”
Chris Capuano (1-2, 3.91) has not allowed a homer in 19 innings since becoming a Yankee. He’s pitched well since being acquired from Colorado on July 24, going 0-1 with a 2.84 ERA in three starts.
The left-hander allowed an unearned run and struck out eight in 6 2-3 innings of a 5-1 victory over Detroit on Wednesday.
“That was one of the reasons we went and got him,” Girardi said. “He does know how to pitch.”
Capuano has a 4.91 ERA in three relief appearances against the Orioles this season – the only times he’s faced them in his career.
Updated August 10, 2014
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