James Shields had arguably the best start of any Rays pitcher this season (with David Price’s effort last night coming in second), as he tossed a complete game, struck out nine, and allowed a single earned run.
Shields mixed up his first-pitch offerings throughout the night, tossing 15 fastballs, 10 curves, and seven changeups. Through the first five innings, Shields recorded just four first-pitch curves, yet he threw six benders over the final four innings. I’m still not a huge fan of going to an entirely backwards approach, for reasons stated here, but Shields made it work tonight in a big way. Remember, he entered the game with 11 strikeouts in 20 innings and nearly topped that total in nine innings.
Nearly all of Shields’ pitches were effective tonight, but his changeup was on another level. Pitch-f/x data has 23 of his 24 off-speed pitches going for strikes—an absurd 95.8 percent strike rate—including four whiffs. His other plus pitch, the curve, is also worth noting, as 18 of the 22 went for strikes (with three of those being whiffs).
Shields’ sixth inning was a masterful deployment of his arsenal as he struck out Juan Pierre, Gordon Beckham, and Adam Dunn—the latter two without ever tossing a fastball. The velocities of the pitches from those at-bats were, in order: 90, 91, 76, 77, 86, 75, 76, 77, 77, 84, and 84. Tommy covered the difficulties of dealing with Adam Dunn in The Process Versus aspect of this series, but Shields was able to handle Dunn by keeping his change low and away and occasionally busting cutter on him.
Shields has now completed three home starts without allowing a home run, although his seasonal total still sits at three thanks to that outing at U.S. Cellular Field.
Ben Zobrist continues to be an odd duckling. After hitting lasers in the first series, Zobrist went on a groundball-hitting spree that would’ve made Dioner Navarro blush. Yet, over the last two series, Zobrist is back to hitting the ball well. Tonight he added a triple (on a line drive to the left-center gap). Entering the game, Zobrist had the highest ISO of any Ray and was grouped near Matt Kemp and Kevin Youkilis on the league-wide leaderboards.
There wasn’t a lot else to add, but Sean Rodriguez hit his third triple of the season.