NEW YORK -- Brian Cashman insisted Saturday there is no panic in New York as the Yankees enter September with only a two-game lead atop the American League East after losing seven of the past 10.
"It's a pennant race," the general manager said. "No panic. I'm glad we're two games up."
But that two-game lead after Friday's series-opening 6-1 loss to the second-place Orioles is the smallest for New York since June 22, when it stood at 1 1/2 games. Saturday's matinee against Baltimore marks the 81st consecutive day the Yankees led the AL East, but while the lead reached 10 games July 18, it shrunk throughout August, when the Yankees went 15-13.
Cashman pointed to a combination of factors for the Yankees' recent slide.
Some nights it is pitching -- consistent starters CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda each allowed at least four runs and took losses in the past two games. Some nights it is hitting -- the Yankees played all of August without Alex Rodriguez and averaged less than three runs per game in the past three games without Mark Teixeira. And some nights it is a combination of both, or a strong performance from the opponent -- Friday's loss to a dominant Miguel Gonzalez, backed by two Mark Reynolds home runs, is a prime example.
With 25 of New York's final 31 games coming within the division, Cashman expects a race, but he also expects the Yankees to return to form and maintain their lead, particularly with Rodriguez and Teixeira eying returns next week.
"Worried's not the right word at all," Cashman said. "We're up against some great competition, and it's going to be that way the rest of the way, as it's been all year. We intend to keep our lead and we intend to win the division, but you have to play it out."
A-Rod may rejoin Yanks for key series Monday
NEW YORK -- The Yankees have reason to believe their roster is about to get stronger. Manager Joe Girardi spoke Saturday about the status of third baseman Alex Rodriguez, and he said that there's a decent chance that the 14-time All-Star may rejoin the team early next week in St. Petersburg when New York takes on the Rays.
Rodriguez went 0-for-3 with a walk in a rehab game for Class A Tampa on Friday night, and Girardi said he's set to play third base for Tampa on Saturday. Rodriguez is also set to serve as designated hitter in a game Sunday morning, and if all goes well, he could join the Yankees on Monday.
"I haven't talked to him this morning to see how he felt, but I got good reports," said Girardi. "I think it's definitely a possibility if he comes through the next two days, that he could join us in St. Petersburg."
Rodriguez has missed a little more than a month with a broken bone in his left hand suffered when he was struck by a Felix Hernandez pitch. Rodriguez, batting .276 with 15 homers for the season, went on the disabled list on July 25 and had eight doubles in his last 23 games before his injury.
After season in Minors, Cervelli grateful to be back
NEW YORK -- Francisco Cervelli is open about his time in the baseball wilderness, and he's thankful to have another opportunity in the Major Leagues. Cervelli, New York's backup catcher for much of the 2010 and 2011 campaigns, returned to the big leagues Saturday as a September callup.
And he did so with a newfound sense of perspective. Cervelli admitted that he was frustrated to be demoted to Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre at the end of Spring Training, but the 26-year-old said that he re-discovered his love of the game and his sense of perspective as a Minor League catcher.
"When you drive back to New York City and you see all the buildings, it's like the first time I got called up," he said. "I'm gonna miss the bus, because it was my house. Here, we're on airplanes. It's a little more comfortable. Everything is better here, but it was a really nice experience over there."
Indeed, that was Cervelli waxing poetic about the hit-and-run nature of life in the Minors, which requires hours on end spent in the back of a bus in between destinations. Especially in 2012, when the Scranton-Wilkes Barre Yankees played their home games in ballparks all across the Northeast and Pennsylvania while their home ballpark underwent renovations.
Cervelli said he lived in a hotel during his time in the Minors, a method of convenience that kept him from ever getting settled.
"Bus, hotels. Check-in, play, check-out. That's it," said Cervelli of his nomadic lifestyle. "So if you ask me for any hotel in any city, I know. You have to make sacrifices to get to the things you want. I do whatever I have to do just to be here and to stay in the big leagues, because that's what I love."
Cervelli batted .246 in his time with Scranton-Wilkes Barre, and manager Joe Girardi said he got good reports on how the backstop fared defensively. The manager also understood Cervelli's initial frustration at his demotion, because he had seemingly established himself with the parent club.
Cervelli played in just six Minor League games over the course of the 2010 and '11 seasons, but he got into 136 games with the Yankees over that time. He wound up losing the backup catcher job when the Yankees acquired Chris Stewart from the Giants in early April, and Cervelli admitted that it took him some time to get over it.
"I was frustrated in the beginning, but after that you go to the positive side of everything," he said. "In May when my family came, they made me walk the line again and to realize how lucky I am to have a job. And I'm still doing what I like to do: Play baseball. No matter where it is, I have to enjoy it."
That's a natural progression, said Girardi, and one that he went through in his own playing career. And because of that experience, he said, it's become part of his standard talk with players.
"I'm sure it was extremely difficult," said Girardi. "I went through it, when I was up and then I got sent down for a while. The first two weeks were tough on me, too. One of the messages that I give to players when they do get sent down -- and if it's a tough send-down -- is don't make the mistake I made. Don't take two weeks before your head is clear. Get your head clear as soon as you can so you go out and play and get yourself back here. But it's hard. It's definitely a hard thing to go through."
Nunez among September callups for Yanks
NEW YORK -- The Yankees made a few moves to augment the edges of their roster on Saturday, the first day for expanded September rosters. New York added three pitchers, a catcher, an infielder and an outfielder on Saturday, and there are plans to add at least one more name next week.
Two names -- infielder Eduardo Nunez and catcher Francisco Cervelli -- spent much of last season with the Yankees. New York also added outfielder Chris Dickerson, left-handed pitcher Justin Thomas and right-handers Cory Wade and Adam Warren in an attempt to flesh out its bench.
"We have some more options," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi. "Obviously, we have some more speed. There's some baserunning that you can do late in the game knowing that you have extra bodies that you can put into the game if you want to do that. And there's extra pitching."
Wade will be making his third stint with the Yankees this year, while Nunez is returning for the first time since May. The Yankees wanted Nunez -- who had served as a utility man last season -- to concentrate on playing shortstop, and he's back with positive returns on his work in the field.
"They said he's been playing well," Girardi said of Nunez. "I like the speed element that he brings to our club. There's some things he can do offensively. Swinging the bat was not the issue when he went down. For him, we just felt we wanted to put him at one position and let him play."
The Yankees also plan to add veteran Casey McGehee to the big league roster as soon as Class A Charleston ends its season. Nunez was originally listed as the team's starting shortstop on Saturday, but the Yankees elected to let him play at designated hitter on his first day back.
"I'm happy to be here again," he said. "Every step back you make can make you stronger. I forget about the past. We live in the present and we think about a better future."
Cashman does not expect Teixeira to return from his Grade 1 left calf strain until Thursday in Baltimore at the earliest, but said it is too soon to tell if even that will happen. He said Teixeira could potentially begin riding a stationary bicycle this weekend.
Brett Gardner shagged fly balls during batting practice before Saturday's game against the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, but Cashman dismissed the notion that the speedy outfielder would rejoin the team in September solely for pinch-running purposes. Out since April 17 with a strained right elbow, Gardner underwent surgery in late July, and Cashman said the Yankees would not use a postseason roster spot on a player limited to pinch-running.
Pedro Feliciano allowed a home run in one inning of work Friday in a rehab appearance with the Class A Staten Island Yankees, and Cashman said Feliciano is throwing only 83-84 mph. The Yankees signed Feliciano to a two-year, $8 million contract prior to last season, but he has yet to appear in pinstripes due to injuries.
Steven Miller is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.