The Rays won 2-0 Sunday afternoon to meatloaf the series (take two of three) against the Blue Jays. Ben Zobrist provided the only offense in the game while the defense was its usual stellar self. R.J. has Zobrist’s homer covered, so I’ll focus on the star of the game which was James Shields.
Thus far, the right-hander is pitching fantastically in 2011 following an up and down 2010. After tossing a one-run complete game against the White Sox on Tuesday, Shields finished the week with a shutout of the Blue Jays on Easter Sunday. Last season he surrendered six home runs in Toronto, but today allowed no home runs for the fourth time in five starts this season.
Shields used just 95 pitches on the afternoon with 65 of them being strikes. He gave up just four hits and surrendered two walks – both to Jose Bautista. As a showing of how good his stuff was today, he induced 14 whiffs in under 100 pitches.
I talked about this with Shields earlier this week (and with Jeremy Hellickson on Friday), but his pitch sequencing was fantastic once again. Shields faced 10 batters in the first three innings of the game. All 10 of those batters saw first-pitch fastballs. In fact, he threw only four curveballs and two changeups through those first three frames.
Just as he did against the White Sox, Shields brought out his breaking ball starting with the first batter in the fourth inning. From the fourth to the sixth inning, Shields threw eight first-pitch curveballs to 12 batters. Despite throwing just a handful of breaking balls and off-speed pitches to start the game, he threw 19 curves and 10 changeups in the middle portion of the game. As the game dwindled down, Shields threw the entire kitchen sink at Toronto; mixing in curveballs, changeups, and fastballs on all counts.
Normally, Shields goes to his changeup as his secondary weapon; however, his curveball has been extremely effective in the second half of the past two games. For the second straight start, Shields said the curveball set up everything for him later in the game. He threw 34 curveballs on Sunday with 20 of them strikes.
Although the curveball beat the changeup in terms of usage, the off-speed offering was still Shields’ put-away pitch. He threw just 17 changeups, but eight of them registered an out – including the final pitch of five swinging strikeouts. In limited action, he still got an amazing nine whiffs on his best pitch.
At some point, advanced scouts will pick up on what Shields is doing with his curveball. When that happens, he will have to adapt and diversify once again. Considering how much time he spends studying himself – including Biomechanics- Shields will be ready once hitters make the adjustments. As long as he continues to switch his style up, the outs should continue to pile up.
Hat tips all around.