ST. PETERSBURG — RHP James Shields said this is the most excited he has ever been going into a season.
Shields, coming off a year in which he lost a career-high 15 games and allowed a league-high 34 homers, worked hard on improving his mechanics during the offseason and said Friday that they're "exactly where I need them to be."
It showed in Shields' performance — and command — this spring, and he hopes it carries over beginning with tonight's start against the Orioles.
"I'm really eager to go," Shields said. "All the coaches have said nothing but positive things about my delivery. They think it's probably one of the best they've seen of me in my career."
Shields said his adjustments, specifically with the lower half of his body, will help him be more consistent and make adjustments quicker, "and I'll be able to go deeper in the game."
"It's one of those things where I feel really good with all my pitches," Shields said. "All four of my pitches I'm throwing for strikes, and they're quality strikes."
Shields, who is seeking his fifth straight season of 200-plus innings, also struck out a career-high 187 last year.
"I feel confident," Shields said. "You're going to go through your ups and downs in a season. As long as I can stay consistent, I'll feel good."
MANNY TIME: DH Manny Ramirez said he was nervous and excited for his Rays debut, saying a few hours before the game he wished he could "move the clock forward."
Ramirez, 0-for-4 with a strikeout and three groundouts, said the "personal reason" he missed Wednesday's spring finale was to go to Fort Lauderdale to take care of something with his kids.
Manager Joe Maddon said he expects Ramirez, 38, and LF Johnny Damon, 37, to play the entire Orioles series.
IN THE FULD: Maddon said OF Sam Fuld will often come in late in games — if the Rays are leading — for Damon, though it has more to do with getting the veteran off his feet than replacing him defensively. If the Rays are behind, such as Friday, Maddon said Damon will stay in.
PENSIVE ON PEN: Maddon spent a lot of time Friday thinking about how his revamped bullpen will set up, saying "the most intriguing part of the next couple weeks will be how that comes together."
Part of it is how to slot RHPs Joel Peralta, Kyle Farnsworth, Adam Russell and Juan Cruz and LHPs Cesar Ramos and Jake McGee.
"The first month when you're really breaking in a new group, it takes a lot of thought and maybe a little bit of trial and error," Maddon said. "I know what I think I saw coming out of spring training. But the regular season is different. Maybe some guys who were not as good there all of a sudden are going to show up well and vice versa. You've just got to be wide open."
Friday, McGee, Russell and Ramos combined for two perfect innings.
SHUTTLE BUS: The free downtown shuttle is available throughout the homestand beginning 90 minutes before game time and continuing until an hour after the game. Pickup and drop-off stops are on Second Street between Central Avenue and First Avenue S (under the pedestrian walkway connecting the Bank of America Tower and the South Core garage) and at Tropicana Field (on 16th Street just south of Third Avenue S).
MISCELLANY: RHP Jeremy Hellickson said he felt good after Thursday's six-inning, 89-pitch Triple-A outing in Port Charlotte. He remains in line to start Wednesday. "I'm ready to go," he said. … Orioles LHP Brian Matusz (back) was scratched from tonight's start with RHP Chris Tillman moved up a day. LHP Zach Britton will be called up from Triple A and make his major-league debut Sunday.