ST. PETERSBURG — Get ready for Price-Sabathia II.
The Rays and Yankees tweaked their rotations to set up a rematch of Monday's instant classic matchup of LHPs David Price and CC Sabathia in the Sept. 23 finale of the four-game series in New York.
Price and Sabathia had their next starts moved up from Sunday to Saturday, ostensibly to keep them on regular rest because the Rays and Yankees are off today. But the real reason was that neither team wanted to play four high-stakes games against the other next week without their best pitcher involved.
"It just didn't seem like the right thing to do," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
Price will face the Angels on Saturday, with struggling RHP Jeff Niemann moving back a day, to Sunday and an interesting rematch with ex-Ray Scott Kazmir, who will pitch at the Trop for the first time since being traded to the Angels last year.
Maddon made it clear the change had nothing to do with Niemann and everything to do with Price facing the Yankees next Thursday and being lined up to pitch either the season finale Oct. 3 in Kansas City or the opener of the playoffs against the Twins or Rangers on Oct. 6.
"It's about David," Maddon said. "To just set it up in that manner, that's all. … If you play it all the way out, you can see how it ends up."
Price (17-6, 2.75 ERA) joked that "you probably wouldn't be too mad" about not facing the Yankees but said he welcomes the opportunity and hopes the rematch turns out just as well. Monday, Price and Sabathia both worked eight scoreless innings, and the Rays won in 11.
"It was fun (last time)," he said. "It'll be good again, hopefully. Hope for the same result."
The Yankees had some more substantive reasons for their move. They made room for LHP Andy Pettitte to rejoin the rotation Sunday. But manager Joe Girardi also acknowledged the importance of the games against the Rays with the division title on the line.
"David Price is a great talent. So is CC," he said. "So they'll get a chance to meet again."
PITCHING IN: RHP Jeremy Hellickson will continue to be used on a limited basis out of the bullpen (where he has a 12.27 ERA in three appearances), with RHP Andy Sonnanstine the more likely candidate if the Rays need a spot starter. … Maddon said he had no regrets about using rookie relievers Jake McGee and Hellickson at a critical juncture Tuesday. He said that is the only way — with an eye toward potential postseason roles — to find out how they can handle such moments. "I'm happy to be in a position to be second-guessed,'' he said.
MINOR MATTERS: Triple-A Durham lost 4-0 to Columbus (Indians) to fall behind 2-0 in the International League best-of-five championships. Game 3 is 7:05 tonight at Durham.
MISCELLANY: The Rays lead the season series 8-6; they've had only one winning season against the Yankees (11-8 in 2005). … LHP Randy Choate made his team-record 76th appearance, surpassing Shawn Camp's 2006 mark. … The Monday and Tuesday games were the third- and second-most watched of the season, according to Sun Sports, and Tuesday's was the most-watched TV program in the Tampa Bay market, reaching an average of 182,205 households. … Senior adviser Don Zimmer on Friday will be inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame; he managed there 1976-80.
Times staff writer Joe Smith contributed to this report.