Let’s take a snapshot look at the key matchups to watch against Thursday’s Opening Day starting pitchers.
Matchups to watch vs CC Sabathia
The Rays best player, Evan Longoria, is their best hitter against CC Sabathia. Longoria
Longoria is 10-for-30 with four home runs and 10 walks (four intentional) in his career against Sabathia. Longoria’s four homers are the most he’s hit against any pitcher. He homered in his last at-bat against the Yankees, which clinched the wild card for the Rays on the final day of the 2011 season.
The one thing Sabathia does have is that he’s gotten Longoria to hit into four double plays against him, the most of any hitter he’s ever faced.
Sabathia does dominate the Rays catcher, former Yankee Jose Molina, who is 0-for-14 against him. The only player with a worse 0-for against Sabathia is another former Yankee, Hideki Matsui (0-for-15).
Matchups to watch vs James Shields
Rays starter James Shields uses his changeup to neutralize left-handed hitters, and he’s done so very well against two Yankees in particular –- Mark Teixeira and Curtis Granderson.
Teixeira is 6-for-41 in his career against Shields. Granderson is 3-for-43.
Over the last three seasons, Shields has thrown that pair of hitters 98 changeups. They’ve netted him 26 outs, and gotten Teixeira and Granderson no hits.
Teixeira will be looking to homer on Opening Day against a pitcher who owns him for the second straight year. Last season, he homered against future AL MVP Justin Verlander, against whom he was previously 1-for-17.
The Yankee who owns Shields is Robinson Cano. He’s a .386 career hitter with four home runs (matching his most vs any pitcher) against Shields.
Cano was one of the best hitters in baseball against the changeup. He missed the pitch once every six swings, a rate well better than major-league average. His contact did damage, to a .373 batting average with three home runs.
That explains why Shields is hesitant to throw Cano a changeup. Since 2009, he’s only thrown 11 to Cano (giving up two hits) out of 123 pitches.
Did you know?
Three fun tidbits about the Yankees and Opening Day…
1 -- Though Derek Jeter is the Yankees all-time hits leader, he’s not their all-time hits leader on Opening Day.
Though records are not complete, Baseball-Reference.com dates back to 1918 and has three Yankees with more Opening Day hits than Jeter’s 18-- Mickey Mantle 23, Lou Gehrig 22, and Babe Ruth 21.
2 -- CC Sabathia will be the first Yankees pitcher to start four straight season openers since Mel Stottlemyre (1967-1970).
3 -- The Yankees have opened the season at Tropicana Field once before, losing 8-3 in 2004 to the Rays and Tampa starter Victor Zambrano. The Yankees have lost seven of the last 10 times they’ve opened a season on the road.