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Yankees-Rays ready for season-opening test

New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi swings a bat over his shoulder during batting practice before a spring training baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., Friday, March 30, 2012.
New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi swings a bat over his shoulder during batting practice before a spring training baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla., Friday, March 30, 2012.
Kathy Willens, Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The budget-minded Tampa Bay Rays welcome the challenge of competing against the big-spending New York Yankees.

The AL East rivals open the season at Tropicana Field on Friday, and both clubs say that's not a moment too soon to start getting a feel for how they stack up against each other.

Rays manager Joe Maddon believes a tough April schedule will benefit his team in the long run. Yankees skipper Joe Girardi likes the idea of getting an early barometer on his defending division champions, too.

Tampa Bay plays 16 of its first 22 games against teams expected to challenge for postseason berths. The Yankees play 15 games against likely contenders during the same stretch.