Rays take on Yankees in the Bronx
(Sports Network) - The Tampa Bay Rays were able to claim sole possession of first place in the American League East this past weekend. Tonight, they try to strengthen their hold atop the standings when they begin a three-game set with the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
The Rays wrestled control of the division over the weekend, taking two of three from the upstart Baltimore Orioles, including an 8-4 triumph in Sunday's rubber match.
Despite having nine players on the disabled list, the Rays head into tonight's series opener holding a one-game lead on the O's in the East and sit 1 1/2 games in front of the Yankees.
"We've been able to hold serve," manager Joe Maddon said. "We're still on top. The guys who have been out there have been doing a great job. The effort has been fantastic."
Normally having James Shields on the hill would be a good thing for the Rays, but he has dropped each of his last four starts in New York.
Shields is also winless in his last three starts overall and fell to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, as he was roughed up for six runs (five earned) and 10 hits in six innings. He has just one win in his last four starts and is 6-3 on the year with a 3.95 ERA.
"I looked at my video, and I still feel like I made good pitches," Shields said. "I'm not gonna dwell on what happened. Obviously, I want better results."
Shields lost to the Yanks back on May 8 and is a mere 5-12 versus them with a 4.39 ERA in 22 starts.
The Yankees, meanwhile, return home tonight after a successful 6-3 road trip that culminated with a brilliant complete game effort from Phil Hughes on Sunday in Detroit.
"The big thing this year has been pitch count and not going very deep into games," said Hughes, who was tagged for seven runs and 11 hits by the Angels in his last start. "Especially coming off of a bad outing, to be able to put this one together is definitely a good feeling, and hopefully something to build off of."
Tonight, the Yanks turn to lefty Andy Pettitte, who is 2-2 with a 3.49 ERA. Pettitte was roughed up a bit in Anaheim on Wednesday, as he allowed five runs and nine hits in seven innings.
He, though, has had tremendous success against the Rays in his career, posting a 16-6 mark to go along with a 4.11 ERA in 31 games (30 starts).
Tampa has won four of six from the Yankees already this season.