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Nova beats Red Sox to earn 15th straight win

Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova has enjoyed the benefit of healthy support from his teammates in his first three starts this season, but he has a better-than-average shot at finding out what it is like to have to try to get by in tighter circumstances Friday.

That's because Nova (3-0, 3.79 ERA) has drawn the Tigers' reigning American League Cy Young Award winner as his mound opponent in the opener of the three-game weekend series, a rematch of last year's AL Division Series won by Detroit.

The Yankees have scored six, 11 and six runs in Nova's three starts, and Nova has been effective, allowing two earned runs in seven innings against the Orioles, four earned runs in six innings against the Angels and two earned runs in six innings against the Red Sox.

With Justin Verlander (2-1, 1.72 ERA in four starts) pitching for the Tigers, runs are likely to be harder to come by for the Bronx Bombers.

Verlander pitched six innings in his last start when he got the win in a 3-2 victory over the Rangers on Saturday and said he doesn't plan on that becoming the norm.

"I'm obviously not satisfied with just throwing six, but I made my pitches when I needed to, kept them off-balance and we got the win," he said.

At the same time, Nova will face a monumental challenge against a Tigers lineup featuring the Miguel Cabrera-Prince Fielder duo as one of the top 3-4 combinations in baseball.

"They're probably as good as it's going to get," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "Those guys can really swing the bats."

In addition to being one of the most feared hitters in the game, Fielder offers protection for Cabrera, making it difficult for opposing pitchers to try to pitch around him.

"[Fielder] adds a lot to that lineup," Girardi said. "I've always admired the way he plays the game. He plays hard, he plays the game the right way."

Tigers: Hitting a rough patch
• The Tigers' 5-4 loss to the Mariners on Thursday was their fourth straight and sixth in seven games and dropped their record to 10-9. They were 9-3 on April 19 but lost three of four to the Rangers and three straight to the Mariners.

"We're just in a little bit of a rut," Verlander said. "It seems like everything's going the other guys' way and not our way. That's just kind of what ends up happening when things aren't going right, it really doesn't go right. The bright side is we're still [10-9] and pretty much tied for first. ... We've been playing [poorly], so it's time to turn it around. We can't sit here and do this all year. We're not just going to fall into the division championship. It doesn't happen that way. We've got to start playing some baseball."

• Cabrera had a career .455 batting average against the Mariners, second best among all active Major League players, before going 0-for-4 in Wednesday's game. Cabrera went 1-for-4 with a two-run home run on Thursday.

Yankees: Jeter still streaking
• Shortstop Derek Jeter had two more hits Wednesday against the Rangers, extending his hitting streak to 15 games and raising his batting average to .420.

"He's amazing," third baseman Alex Rodriguez said. "You see him in batting practice, and the ball's jumping off his bat to all fields. When you go 10-15 rows up in batting practice to all fields, that's pretty impressive. I think whatever he was doing in the second half [last year], he's just building on this year."

• Since blowing the save in the season opener at Tampa Bay, allowing two runs and five of his six batters faced to reach, closer Mariano Rivera has retired 16 of his last 18 batters faced with six strikeouts and four saves in four chances in his last six outings.

Worth noting
• Tigers relief pitchers have combined to compile a 6-1 record, 3.39 ERA (69 innings, 26 earned runs) and 60 strikeouts this season. Tigers relievers have posted a 2.45 ERA (29 1/3 innings, eight earned runs) over the club's last six games.

• Girardi said he doesn't mind playing so many strong teams early in the season. "Competition brings the best out in people, so I like that," Girardi said. "It seems like each series, it doesn't get any easier and we're going through a lot of tough teams right now. It's a good matchup. There's been a few good matchups the past few days."

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