Cowgill led off and played center field in Crisp's absence, with Yoenis Cespedes returning to left field after serving as designated hitter Thursday in Detroit with a bone bruise in his right foot.
Melvin said he doubted Crisp would be available off the bench, and opted to start Cowgill atop his lineup because of the right-handed hitter's experience against Yankees starter CC Sabathia. Cowgill went 3-for-4 against Sabathia in a May 26 matchup with the left-hander at the Coliseum.
"He does have a little bit of a history with him," Melvin said. "We'll start him out there and see how it goes. We certainly have some options off the bench if the pitching goes in a different direction, but he's probably the only other true leadoff-hitter type we have, especially against a left-hander. It's his time to shine today."