ST. PETERSBURG — For James Shields, this has been a "long" and "frustrating" year.
His numbers haven't been pretty, from the career-high 15 losses to the American League-leading 34 homers allowed. Shields gave up the most earned runs in the majors this season (117) and hasn't won since Aug. 29.
But Shields feels he enters today's pivotal start in Game 2 of the ALDS with a clean slate, and both he and the Rays say there are several reasons he can be successful against the Rangers.
"There was a lot of ups and downs this year," Shields said. "But I've got a good mind-set. The best attribute for a baseball player is amnesia. But I feel really good right now. I'm confident in my stuff. I feel confident in what I'm doing out there."
Shields was picked to start Game 2 partly because he has pitched better at Tropicana Field (5-7 with a 4.53 ERA) than on the road (8-8, 5.82). He got a win over Texas on Aug. 18 at the Trop, when he allowed one earned run and four hits over seven innings.
Shields has fared well against the Rangers in his career (3-2 with a 4.07 ERA in six starts) and Rays pitching coach Jim Hickey says his mix of offspeed pitches can keep a good fastball-hitting team like Texas off balance.
The Rangers pounced on several David Price fastballs Wednesday in a 5-1 win. Shields "has a lot of weapons that Price doesn't have to counter the fastball hitters, especially in fastball counts," Hickey said.
"They're free swingers," Shields said. "These guys will hit the homer, no problem. They definitely swing pretty hard. My focus is to keep the fastball down, down in the zone, mix up my off-speed pitches a little bit. If I can throw my changeup and curveball for strikes, I think it'll be real big early in the count."
For Shields, execution will be the key. As good as he has felt about his stuff, and physically, Shields has allowed at least five earned runs in each of his past three starts. He tied his career high by giving up 12 hits Friday against the last-place Royals.
"It's kind of weird; it's like, my last three games, I got crushed by one hit," Shields said. "It could have been a great outing each time."
What also gives manager Joe Maddon, and Shields, confidence is how the veteran right-hander pitched in the 2008 postseason, leading the Rays rotation with a 2.88 ERA and earning the club's only World Series win.
"I think it's a big factor," Shields said. "I think this year, having the experience of going through that in 2008 is definitely going to help me out and help my confidence out."