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Rays Tales: Record-setting youth movement for pitching staff

RHP James Shields was happy to start and be part of the history the Rays are making with their young rotation. But he'd be even happier to end their record streak next season. Shields' first pitch made Saturday's game the 653rd straight in which they used a starting pitcher under age 30, a streak, dating back to May 2007, that is the second longest in MLB history, surpassing the 1974-77 Giants, who went 651 games.

Only the Washington Senators, with a 704-game run until Walter "Big Train" Johnson turned 30, have gone longer, and the Rays — barring an unexpected acquisition — will surpass that in late July.

"I'd like to help get it," Shields said. "And then I would definitely like to stop the streak."

That's because Shields turns 30 in December. And since he is in the last guaranteed year of his contract, and would jump to a $7 million salary next season if the Rays pick up his option, there is at least a question if he'll be back. (Or, if he continues pitching well and the Rays drop out of the race, if he'd even finish the season here.)

"I definitely would like being here at age 30," he said. "That's for sure.

A then-25-year-old Shields started the streak when he started May 25, 2007, at Chicago, the day after RHP Jae Seo pitched on his 30th birthday. (If not for Seo's festivities, the Rays would already have the all-time mark, at 784 games, because the previous 30-plus pitcher was Mark Hendrickson on June 25, 2006.)

As impressive as the 653-game run is that the Rays have used only 14 starters during that span. The next closest team, the Twins, have used 18. The Rangers, at the other end, have used 33 and the Nationals 31.

The reason the Rays have a young staff is they're putting a philosophy into practice with good scouting and decision-making. But the reason they're able to keep running them out there is the program the Rays have in place — including those darned pitch counts — and implemented by pitching coach Jim Hickey; the extensive amount of preventative and reactive work by Ron Porterfield's training staff; and the tremendous work ethic by the starters themselves, led by Shields.

Pitching in

Rays starters during the under-30 run:

James Shields 132

Matt Garza 94

Andy Sonnanstine 79

Scott Kazmir 71

Jeff Niemann 67

David Price 66

Edwin Jackson 54

Wade Davis 45

Jason Hammel 19

Jeremy Hellickson 13

J.P. Howell 10

Casey Fossum 1

Mitch Talbot 1

Alex Cobb 1

For the defense

The Rays last week set a major-league record by going 49 games into the season (now up to 51) without making multiple errors in a game. At the time they surpassed the 2010 Twins, which was Tuesday night, consider:

• There were 184 multi-error games by the other 29 teams.

• 32 players had made two errors in a game.

• There were 60 multi-error innings by teams.

• 11 players made two errors in an inning.

• 3 teams, the Cards, Padres and Astros, had 9 multi-error games each.

Rays rumblings

Baseball America's latest mock draft has the Rays taking Alonso High RHP Jose Fernandez at No. 24, then Hawaii 2B Kolten Wong at 31 and New Mexico prep C Blake Swihart at 32. … Manager Joe Maddon bought skinny jeans last week, trying to sell the group on making it a future dress-up theme. … Joining INF Willy Aybar with Edmonton in the independent North American League are ex-Rays RHP Bartolome Fortunato and RHP Albie Lopez, now 39 and eight years removed from the majors. … A study for SportsBusiness Journal found the Rays had the fourth best season-ticket sales staff in MLB, based obviously not on total sales but on proficiency in dealing with inquiring customers. … RHP Chris Bootcheck is pitching again for Triple-A Durham after one of the season's oddest injuries: a concussion after hitting his head on a pipe in the tunnel leading to the field at the Charlotte Knights stadium. … In ranking Stuart Sternberg the fifth-best owner in MLB, ESPN's Jim Caple added: Imagine what he could do with an actual fan base.

Got a minute? | Justin Ruggiano

Must-see TV? Modern Family, that's the only show I really watch.

Big-night-out meal? A huge steak, onion rings and Blue Bell ice cream afterward. It's got to be Blue Bell. People from Texas will appreciate that.

Band you'd most like to be on stage with? The Black Keys.

Worst job? I had a bunch — dishwasher at The County Line BBQ in Austin (Texas) and then busser after that, and I did construction in Kerrville, Texas, for a hot summer.

With your wife Shelly's permission, dream date? Jessica Biel's good. Or Alessandra Ambrosio, the Victoria's Secret model. Or Sofia Vergara from Modern Family.

Rays Tales: Record-setting youth movement for pitching staff 05/28/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 28, 2011 8:49pm]
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