Sunday's rubber match will be the final regular-season meeting between Tampa Bay and New York. The Rays enter the game trailing the division-leading Yankees by four games but have a 10-7 record against the Bronx Bombers this season.
Rays manager Joe Maddon tweaked his rotation to ensure Sunday's starter, Matt Moore, would make a start in this series, moving the lefty up in the rotation after the team had an off-day earlier this month. In his last start against the Yankees, on Sept. 5, Moore gave up six runs (four earned). But in his first and only start at Yankee Stadium, last Sept. 22, the southpaw tossed five innings of shutout ball and struck out 11.
"I like it," Maddon said. "We did like Matt pitching here. Part of it is a lefty thing, and he's pitched well here in the past and he's been pitching well. He had a tough start the last time out, but that happens. I feel good about him here [on Sunday]."
Moore dropped to 10-10 this season after laboring through four innings on Tuesday against the Orioles, but he said he felt fatigued and wasn't able to reach his normal velocity.
"If I was like, 'I feel like it's not coming out of my arm' or, 'It feels heavy or sore,' that would be an issue," Moore said. "But my arm feels good right now, and my entire body feels good. I think it might have just been a little dip there, and we'll see how it goes on Sunday."
Coming off a solid start against the Red Sox, Hiroki Kuroda will get the nod for the Yankees. Kuroda allowed three runs over 6 1/3 innings in that outing but ultimately settled for a no-decision.
Kuroda has starred during his first season in New York -- he enters Sunday's start with a 13-10 record and 3.17 ERA -- but the Yankees haven't given him ample run support on numerous occasions. New York has averaged just 3.69 runs per start for Kuroda.
Yankees: Gardner ready to contribute
If Brett Gardner's rehab continues without any setbacks, the speedy outfielder could be activated from the disabled list as early as next week.
Gardner has not appeared in a game since April 17, when he strained his right elbow while diving for a fly ball in left field, and he suffered three setbacks in his attempt to return, ultimately opting to undergo arthroscopic surgery in July. Gardner said he felt 100 percent healthy when he began shagging fly balls during batting practice about two weeks ago, and he will continue to practice running the bases over the coming days.
"Obviously, I won't know how I feel until I start swinging a bat and taking BP on the field," Gardner said, "but as far as pinch-running, playing defense, playing catch, ground balls, line drives, fly balls, diving for a ball -- I don't have any reservations about any of that."
Girardi echoed those ideas, saying that if Gardner were to see playing time, it would likely be as a pinch-runner or a defensive substitute.
Rays: Rodriguez back in action
Sean Rodriguez made his first appearance since Aug. 20 during Saturday's 5-3 loss, appearing as a pinch-runner in the seventh inning and finishing the game at third base. He didn't log an at-bat.
Rodriguez was optioned to Triple-A Durham late last month but subsequently fractured his right hand after punching a locker and was forced to sit out for a few weeks.
Maddon said he expects to use Rodriguez in a variety of roles -- the infielder has appeared in games at second base, third base, shortstop and as a designated hitter and pinch-hitter for the Rays this season.
"All kinds of stuff; offense, defense, baserunning -- everything, pretty much," Maddon said. "If we put him up there, I want him to be able to swing also. So if he tells me he can swing, then he can go up there."
Second baseman Ryan Roberts, who had been out since Thursday with a bruised left shin, was back in the starting lineup on Saturday, batting seventh. He finished 1-for-4 and scored a run.
Entering Sunday, the Yankees were batting .253 against lefty pitchers as opposed to .265 against right-handers.