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Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields sharp in final spring tuneup

TRY, TRY, AND TRY AGAIN: It takes three attempts because of the wind, but Chris Richard gets his hat into the crowd after the last Rays game against the Twins at Charlotte Sports Park.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

TRY, TRY, AND TRY AGAIN: It takes three attempts because of the wind, but Chris Richard gets his hat into the crowd after the last Rays game against the Twins at Charlotte Sports Park.

PORT CHARLOTTE — RHP James Shields said that, for his last two innings of spring Wednesday, he wanted to simulate it as if it were opening day.

He would probably take the same results Monday in Boston.

Shields struck out four of his last six batters in a 2-1 win over the Twins, using his curveball and changeup well in a four-inning tuneup that has him feeling ready for the regular season.

And Shields shook off his last outing, when he was charged with 11 runs and 12 hits to the Twins. On Wednesday, he gave up one run on four hits in the first couple of innings, when he was a bit "lackadaisical," but got his adrenaline going after that in his 52-pitch performance.

"I was being aggressive down in the zone and had a little bit more control of my body than I had in my last couple starts," he said. "Always a good sign in your last start."

Manager Joe Maddon said he really liked the way Shields started throwing his breaking ball, "He had some really good curveballs, really impressive to see that."

FOND FAREWELL: After the Rays' final game of the spring at Charlotte Sports Park, Maddon addressed the crowd of 6,054, thanking fans for their support and saying he'd love to see them in St. Petersburg: "Don't forget, it only takes a little over an hour to drive up to the Trop, so come up there, too."

Rays players tossed their hats to fans in the stands, with some having more luck than others. It took OF Chris Richard three tries due to the wind. "It was a struggle," he said.

DURHAM BLUES: Justin Ruggiano, in the mix for the final outfield spot before Matt Joyce was picked, said he was disappointed he won't break camp with the team but respected the team's decision and was happy with how it handled the process.

Ruggiano, 26, had four stints with the Rays last season.

"Of course I'm disappointed," he said. "At the same time, I wish them the best of luck. I just know this year when they call on me, I'll be ready again."

GAME DETAILS: RF Gabe Gross hit his second homer in as many days, for the tying run in the fifth, and LF Carl Crawford had the go-ahead RBI single. 2B Akinori Iwamura went 2-for-4, and Jason Bartlett went 2-for-3. Maddon said RHP Grant Balfour, pitching in back-to-back games for the first time this spring, had better location with his pitches and "good stuff" in his scoreless seventh, one day after giving up three runs and only getting two outs. LHP J.P. Howell pitched a hitless inning, striking out two, and looked "really sharp," according to Maddon.

MINOR MATTERS: RHP Jason Isringhausen, added Wednesday to the 40-man roster, threw an inning in a Triple-A exhibition, giving up one run on one hit, striking out two and walking one. B.J. Upton went 0-for-4 in the same game, playing six innings in centerfield. He'll be DH today in an exhibition in Port Charlotte.

MISCELLANY: The Rays are expected to place Upton, RHP Chad Bradford and OF Fernando Perez on the disabled list Sunday.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com

Tampa Bay Rays' James Shields sharp in final spring tuneup 04/01/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 2, 2009 6:37am]
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