Tonight is the wild card (no pun intended) of the three-game series between the Yankees and Rays. Phil Hughes (16-7, 4.26) will start against James Shields (13-12. 4.98) and neither pitcher is easy to figure.

Hughes gave up six earned runs in his last start, Sept. 5, against Oakland. He was skippped one start as the the Yankees monitor his number of innings, though he did throw a scoreless inning in relief against the Rangers last Sunday in Texas. 

Hughes is just 5-5 with a 5.37 earned run average since the All-Star break.  His immediate task is to help the Yankees leave Florida in first place by winning two of three in this mini- showdown before the teams meet for four games next week at Yankee Stadium. 

In the larger picture, Hughes could be fighting for a starting role in the playoffs. After CC Sabathia and, if he is healthy, Andy Pettitte, Hughes might be battling A.J. Burnett for a post season start.

As for Shields, the last time the Yankees faced him he struck out 11 in 7 1/3 scoreless innings. But, as his record and ERA suggest, he can be erratic.

More Yankees headlines