W2W4: Yankees at Rays (Sept. 3)

James Shields Stats To Watch

Shields is in the midst of a great stretch, a six-start run in which he’s 4-1 with a 2.01 ERA, and 42 strikeouts to five walks in 44 2/3 innings pitched.

Opponents are hitting .160 against Shields, partly due to the high strikeout total, but also due to an incredible Batting Average on Balls in Play (.183).

In this run, Shields has allowed 50 ground balls and 44 of them (88 percent) have resulted in at least one out.

Prior to this stretch, the Rays had only been turning ground balls into outs for Shields at a 71 percent clip in 2012.

The killer pitch for Shields recently has been his changeup. He’s gotten misses on 46 percent of the swings against it over his last six starts. He’s allowed three hits with the pitch, but gotten 42 outs, 25 by strikeout.

The pitch has caused the most consternation for right-handed hitters, surprising since most pitchers don’t throw the pitch often to righties.

Shields does. It’s netted him 21 outs and yielded just one hit in this hot stretch.

It will be interesting to see how Shields pitches to Robinson Cano. Cano is 20-for-47 against Shields since 2009, including 7-for-11 in 2012.

Shields is extremely reluctant to throw a changeup to Cano (he's done so just eight percent of the time), but perhaps his strategy will change in this outing.

Cano typically averages a hit for every nine to 10 changeups seen. But he has only three hits and nine outs against the past 41 changeups thrown to him.

CC Sabathia Stats To Watch

For Sabathia, his success against the Rays will likely come down to the effectiveness of his slider.

The last time Sabathia faced the Rays, on June 7, he threw 42 sliders, and the Rays missed on 15 of their 25 swings, leading to seven outs, six of which were strikeouts.

Sabathia got eight strikeouts with his slider in his last start against the Blue Jays, but allowed three costly hits with it, including a two-run home run to Yunel Escobar in the sixth inning.

Sabathia is 3-7 against the Rays since 2009. The hitter who has given him the most trouble is Evan Longoria, who is hitting .394 with five home runs against him in that stretch. That leads us to the inevitable question ...

How do you get Evan Longoria out?

Longoria is 17-for-42 with five home runs against left-handed pitching this season, including 6-for-16 with three home runs since coming off the disabled list a little less than a month ago.

When Yankees lefties have gotten Longoria out, it has been with pitches on the inner-third of the plate or closer to him.

He’s 2-for-11 when an at-bat against a Yankees lefty ends with a pitch to that spot over the past four seasons. He’s 14-for-34 everywhere else.

Welcome back A-Rod

Alex Rodriguez likely returns to the Yankees lineup to play for the first time since July 24. In his absence, Yankees third basemen hit .309 with seven home runs and 17 RBI in 126 at-bats, but hadn't homered since August 13.

When we last saw Rodriguez, he was in the midst of an 11-game stretch in which he was hitting .349 with six extra-base hits. He's 6-for-his-last-18 against Shields with two homers.