Despite less than favorable conditions – pouring rain and a hitter’s ballpark – James Shields continued his strong start to the 2011 season. No, Shields did not throw another complete game. In fact, he did not even complete the eighth inning. Instead, we will have to settle for 7.1 innings of three-hit, one-run ball as part of a 6-2 victory on a rainy Baltimore night. He allowed a solo home run to Derrek Lee in a rain-soaked sixth inning, but was otherwise solid once again.
Even without his best swing and miss stuff (four total whiffs), Shields was effective and efficient. He worked into the eighth inning, walked just one batter, and ended the day with 103 pitches thrown (64 strikes). He quickly erased one of his baserunners with his third pickoff of the season and had another wiped out on a double-play ball.
In addition to the favorable results, Shields continued to show a similar process. The right-hander threw 12 first-pitch fastballs to the first 13 hitters he faced. Of the next 14
hitters, only three saw fastballs, while nine of them were met with a first-pitch curveball. As long as Shields continues to spot his fastball (63% strikes) in favorable places (away vs. left-handed batters), the rest of his pitches should continue to be successful as well.
Speaking of successful, the debut of Brandon Guyer was deemed as a game-changing success. Guyer provided the Rays with instant offense when he belted a 2-run home run in the top of the second inning. It marked the first time a Rays player homered in the first at-bat of his first major league game. He struck out in his final two plate appearances, but still saw 16 total pitches in three at-bats. Not a bad first day.
Pitching in on offense, Evan Longoria, B.J. Upton, and Casey Kotchman each had two hits. Kotchman went 2-2 in relief of Dan Johnson – including an RBI single in the eighth inning. Johnny Damon drove in the final pair of Rays’ runs with a two-run homer in the final inning.
After Shields issued his only walk with one out in the eighth inning, Joe Maddon went to his bullpen with Brian Roberts due up. In the Process Versus series (right sidebar), I said the Rays like to turn Roberts around to the right side if they could. With the opportunity to do so, Maddon did not go that route and instead went to Joel Peralta. One of the bigger bullpen question marks was Peralta’s ability to handle left-handed batters. Sure, he was really good against them in 2010, but his career mark suggests a righty-specialist.
The thing with relievers like Peralta and Kyle Farnsworth is they seem to have tweaked their pitch selection and usage in such a way that differs from some of the career numbers. The Rays appear to trust in Peralta’s change versus lefties which would make him immune to platoon splits and be used based on leverage alone. Using his neutralizing splitter against lefties, Peralta induced an inning-ending double play against Roberts. He struggled a bit in the ninth; however, the game was pretty much in hand as Brandon Gomes came in for the final out.