He'll open the Rays' final home series against the Yankees this season, and with just six head-to-head matchups remaining and 3 1/2 games separating the two teams, Shields knows it's time to kick it up a notch.
"It's now September. It's time to go, it's time to win," Shields said. "Definitely going to be a big series. This is one of two series we're going to be playing against them in the next month, and yeah, it is huge."
Monday will mark the 83rd consecutive day the Yankees have been in sole possession of first place, but with series against third-place Tampa Bay and second-place Baltimore this week, New York could find the AL East playoff picture getting tighter.
The Yankees haven't made things easy for Shields this season. In his four starts against New York, the right-hander is 1-2 with a 7.04 ERA. As a team, the Yankees are hitting .313 against Shields, and he's given up six or more runs in two of his four outings.
But New York hasn't seen Shields since July 3, when he picked up his lone win against them this season by tossing seven frames and allowing four runs. He's had quality starts in his last six outings dating back to July 31, putting together a 4-1 record and a 2.01 ERA over the stretch.
"They're just a team that hits pretty well, so I have to be careful with them," Shields said of the Yankees. "But I'm going to go in there and pitch like I've been pitching the last month, and I think I'll be fine."
On top of facing an improved Shields on Monday, the Yankees have hit a rough patch of their own. New York has lost eight of its last 12 games, and manager Joe Girardi can't seem to find production from his cleanup hitters since Mark Teixeira strained his left calf on Aug. 27. Girardi has batted Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, Curtis Granderson and Steve Pearce at the position over the last five games, and they've combined to go 3-for-18 with one home run from Granderson.
"It's not something in my tenure here that we've had to deal with a whole lot," Girardi said. "In 2008, we had a lot of injuries to our pitching staff, but positionally, we were pretty good. This year, it seems like we've had a little bit of both -- our pitching staff and our position players. We've had to put some guys in there that usually don't hit fourth. These guys have tried to grind out their at-bats. Hopefully you get some guys back."
Girardi could get his wish. All indications point toward Alex Rodriguez coming back on Monday, as the third baseman is likely to join the team in Florida after a two-day rehab assignment at Class A Tampa. After their 8-3 loss to the Orioles on Sunday, the Yankees are now 18-18 since Rodriguez fractured his left hand on July 24. He could provide some help in the cleanup spot despite a .224 average in 40 games batting fourth this season.
CC Sabathia will be the Yankees' starter opposite Shields, as the lefty makes his third start since returning from the disabled list. He dominated Cleveland over 7 1/3 innings in his first start back on Aug. 24 -- allowing one run and just four hits -- but his outing on Tuesday was less impressive. He allowed five runs (two earned) in an 8-5 loss to Toronto, scattering nine hits and striking out eight. He's 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA against the Rays this season.
Yankees: Pettitte on the mend
Andy Pettitte threw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Sunday, pushing off harder than before on his recovering fractured left ankle. While he's still awaiting word on whether team doctors will tell him he's in the clear from any setbacks, Girardi and pitching coach Larry Rothschild have started to map out a plan for his return to the rotation.
Pettitte will likely throw again on Wednesday, although the setting hasn't been determined yet. The 40-year-old lefty could throw batting practice in his next session, meaning he'd throw to live hitters for the first time since a comebacker hit his ankle on June 27, sending him to the disabled list.
Rays: Gomes recalled
The Rays recalled reliever Brandon Gomes from Triple-A Durham before their 9-4 win over Toronto on Sunday. Manager Joe Maddon felt his team needed some insurance in the bullpen should he need to rest some of his regular relievers.
Gomes was not a part of September callups on Saturday, but he has had four other stints with the Rays this season. The right-hander is 2-2 with a 6.94 ERA in 10 outings this season for the Major League club, and he went 5-4 with a 3.09 ERA in 55 1/3 innings for Durham this season.
The Yankees' September callups have performed well in the two games since rosters were expanded on Saturday. Eduardo Nunez had an RBI single on Saturday night, and Chris Dickerson added a two-run home run and a home run-saving catch in Sunday's 8-3 loss to the Orioles.
Fernando Rodney earned his 40th save of the season on Saturday. His 0.73 ERA is the lowest mark of any player to reach that milestone in Major League history.