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Tampa Bay Rays notebook: James Shields struggles after given lead

James Shields waits for a new ball after Raul Ibanez’s three-run homer in the third inning.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

James Shields waits for a new ball after Raul Ibanez’s three-run homer in the third inning.

ST. PETERSBURG — No one was better than RHP James Shields in going deep into games last season, an All-Star year that earned him Friday's fourth opening day start.

That's why Shields' five-inning stint against the Yankees, allowing six runs and nine hits to blow a four-run lead, was disappointing to the ace.

"I didn't do my job," Shields said. "It was a tough one. I definitely wanted to be better. But the bottom line is we won."

Shields said he felt like he made good pitches, especially early in counts, but some close ball/strike calls "didn't go my way." Manager Joe Maddon said Shields was hurt by some awkward moments, including a run-scoring wild pitch and a throw home by 1B Carlos Peña in the third that was just off the plate.

But C Jose Molina acknowledged Shields was a "little off," with his command, and the Yankees made him pay, with the big blast a three-run homer by DH Raul Ibanez in the third.

It could have been worse, but Shields struck out CF Curtis Granderson with the bases loaded to end the third and stranded a runner at third in the fourth.

Said Shields: "I battled."

SAW THE SIGN: The Rays twice struggled with their bunt execution. In the third, Sean Rodriguez tried the safety squeeze with runners on first and third. But his bunt, barely in front of the plate, only advanced a runner to second.

In a similar situation in the eighth, Molina didn't follow through on a first bunt sign and swung away, fouling a ball back as Rodriguez charged in from third. Molina then bunted foul with two strikes for an out.

"The first time, it was my mistake," Molina said. "The second one, I didn't get it done."

LINING UP: INF Jeff Keppinger found himself in an unusual spot Friday, starting in the cleanup spot and at DH for the first time in the big leagues. He said he had never hit fourth, even in college and high school.

"I'd say that's probably two things I never envisioned I'd do," Keppinger said. "I guess I can add it to the resume."

Maddon said he liked Keppinger's contact ability hitting behind 3B Evan Longoria. Keppinger lived up to his reputation, going 2-for-3 with two singles.

Maddon said DH Luke Scott will play against some lefties, but with him coming off offseason shoulder surgery, he thought it was best to start him only in the next two games. Scott did make his Rays debut, pinch-hitting and going 0-for-1 with a walk and double play.

CLOSING TIME: Maddon said RHP Kyle Farnsworth (elbow soreness) likely will need 4-6 weeks of rest with the team going with a closer-by-committee approach until he returns.

LUCKY LUEKE: RHP Josh Lueke was on his way to sign his apartment lease in Durham on Thursday when he got the call at 1 p.m. he was coming to the majors. Lueke, taking Farns­worth's roster spot, drove 10 hours in his truck, facing some heavy rain, to arrive in St. Petersburg at 1 a.m.

"I was wide awake. It was no road rage or nothing," said Lueke, who was set to pitch at Triple A. "Just happy-go-lucky."

Lueke, acquired in the offseason from Seattle, was surprised considering his 5.40 spring ERA. Maddon said they picked Lueke over LHP Cesar Ramos and RHP Brandon Gomes, who still needs to regain velocity following offseason back surgery.

Maddon said they haven't seen the best of Lueke yet, encouraging him to use his changeup more.

"Hopefully, I can … prove I belong," Lueke said.

MISCELLANY: CF B.J. Upton (back) is likely to start a rehab stint Monday at Class A Charlotte. … C/OF Stephen Vogt won the Al Lopez Award, given to the top Rays rookie in spring training. Vogt made his big-league debut Friday, pinch-hitting and striking out in the eighth. … It was the Rays' third opening day walkoff win.

Tampa Bay Rays notebook: James Shields struggles after given lead 04/06/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 7, 2012 12:04am]
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