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Red Sox Notebook

Red Sox face a tough weekend challenge with Yankees coming to Fenway for first time this season

Alex Verdugo is looking forward to resuming the Red Sox' rivalry with the Yankees, who have a 13-game lead in the division.Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

The Red Sox’ stretch of games aren’t getting easier following their 7-1 loss to the Rays Wednesday. The Sox are now 0-8 in series against American League East opponents this year.

Now, they invite the Yankees to town beginning Thursday. The Sox and Yankees haven’t played one another since Opening Day weekend in April, when the Yankees took two of three.

The Sox went on to sputter, going 23-27 for the first two months of the season. Yet the Sox crawled out of that deep hole The Yankees, though, have continued to flex their muscles with the most wins in baseball with 59 and have a commanding 14 game lead over the Red Sox (45-37) in the division.

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The Red Sox aren’t focused on the standings, however. Instead, it’s all about the opponent. Plus, the Sox know they’re a different team.

“It’s always good to play the [Yankees],” Alex Verdugo said before Wednesday’s series loss. “It’s a rivalry. So I think it would be good. They’re a really good team this year. They’re playing well, and I mean, I think we’re playing well as well. So it’s just going to be one of those things where paper can say whatever it wants, but you’ve got to go out there and compete and play. We’ll find a way to do what we can to win.”

The Sox are still without some starters, including Nate Eovaldi, who is on the injured list with back/hip tightness. Michael Wacha had to be pushed back from his Monday start as he battled a heavy arm. He’s scheduled to pitch Friday.

Still, the Sox have gotten some quality starts from some of their young pitchers, such as Josh Winckowski, who has a 3.12 ERA in 26 innings. Winckowski will start Thursday, which will begin the four-game set.

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“In terms of it being the Yankees, I’m going to treat it like it’s another start,” Winckowski said. “It doesn’t really matter what the opposing lineup is I’m going to try to do the same thing every game.”

The Yankees will have Gerrit Cole up against Winckowski, followed by Nestor Cortes, Jordan Montgomery, Jameson Taillon. Each of the Yankees’ five starters (including Luis Severino) have a sub-4.00 ERA with Cortes coming in with a 2.44 ERA.

Verdugo, certainly, is looking forward to it.

“Those series fire me up,” Verdugo said. “I’m trying to have the best at-bats that I can and see pitches.”

The Sox haven’t announced a starter for Saturday. It could be a situation where the team utilizes the opener method. Nick Pivetta, however, is scheduled to go in Sunday’s matchup to wrap up the series.

“They’re having a great season,” manager Alex Cora said after Wednesday’s loss to the Rays regarding the Yankees. “They’re doing an outstanding job. We’ll see what happens. We feel like we belong in the conversation.”

Hansel Robles officially designated for assignment

To make room for Red Sox top prospect Brayan Bello, the team designated Hansel Robles for assignment. Robles pitched well to begin the year, allowing zero runs over his first eight appearances (nine innings) this season.

Nevertheless, over Robles’s final 18 appearances (15⅔ innings), he had a 9.19 ERA, yielding 16 earned runs and four homers. Robles had a 5.84 ERA on the year. The Sox acquired Robles from the Twins at the trade deadline last season.

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“That was a tough one because what he did for us last year was amazing,” said Cora regarding Robles, who had a 3.60 ERA in 25 innings for the Sox last year while striking out 33. He was really good for us. But it’s the nature of the game.”

Rafael Devers sits for second day

Rafael Devers was out of the lineup for the second straight day with a sore back and sore right hamstring. He was available off the bench to pinch hit. “He was battling down there [in Chicago],” Cora said. “So we have to be smart about it.” … Wacha threw off a mound. The team will see how he responds . . . Kiké Hernández (right hip flexor strain) could go on a rehab assignment to Worcester beginning Friday . . . Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock (right hip inflammation) could go on a rehab assignment sooner rather than later . . . Rich Hill, who sprained his left knee Friday, was on the field playing catch before the game. Hill said he felt good throwing using the brace he was fitted for on Thursday. His stint on the injured list could be a short one . . . Chris Sale threw 72 pitches in 3⅔ innings in his rehab start at Worcester. It could be Sale’s last rehab start. If so, he would be slated to start Monday at Tampa . . . The Sox marked Disability Pride Month by recognizing some area athletes from the Special Olympics and Paralympics. One of the first pitches was thrown out by Fenway Park press box attendant Kevin Doyle, who has been with the team since 1999. Siblings Paul Sylvestre and Lillian Kearney of Boxford, representing the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress, sang the national anthem.

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Julian McWilliams can be reached at julian.mcwilliams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.