MILWAUKEE — RHP James Shields starts tonight in Houston as the Rays continue to tweak their pitching rotation to have Shields and LHP David Price on a specific schedule.
"The driving force is just to maximize, optimize our using of Shields and David against what we perceive to be the appropriate teams," manager Joe Maddon said.
But each action causes a reaction, and RHP Wade Davis has felt a few, his schedule altered by the changes, as well as rainouts and off days.
Davis, for example, was in line to start tonight, but so the Rays could keep Shields on a normal five-day cycle, Davis was bumped to Saturday and will pitch on seven days' rest.
The erratic scheduling could be a reason for Davis' inconsistent performances.
"I think everyone likes having that every-five-days (schedule)," Davis said. "I think I've always been a little sharper on five days, but it's just one of those things. I understand (Shields) has been hot, they want to get him out there as many times as possible."
Since his first start of the season, Davis has made five starts on the standard four days' rest (going 3-1 with a 3.41 ERA), six on five days' rest (1-3, 5.56) and two on six days (2-0, 4.26).
"It's been a little off, but I've got two wins in a row now, and I'm starting to put things together," Davis said. "It'll play itself out a little."
J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell said he will be back in the bullpen tonight and available for duty, the pain in his left foot diagnosed as gout rather than structural. Howell left the team Wednesday to have what Maddon said was a "very sore" foot examined in St. Petersburg by Dr. Koco Eaton. "Definitely can pitch Friday," Howell wrote in a text message.
NOT-SO-MINOR MATTERS: Two of the Rays' top prospects, LHP Matt Moore and SS Hak-Ju Lee, were picked to play in the All-Star Futures Game on July 10 in Phoenix. Moore, 22, is 4-3 with a 2.43 ERA for Double-A Montgomery, throwing a no-hitter in his last start for the Biscuits, then starting the Southern League All-Star Game. Lee, 20, is hitting .399 with 20 steals for Class A Charlotte and played in the Florida State League All-Star Game. Lee, acquired from the Cubs in the Matt Garza trade in the offseason, played in the 2010 Futures Game.
A BIG HOUSTON WELCOME: Pitching coach Jim Hickey spent 16 seasons with the Astros, his last 2½ (2004-06) as the big-league pitching coach. But the Astros have changed so much since, don't expect any tearful reunions. "I loved my time there, and I was really proud of what we accomplished over there," he said, "but I don't think there's people in uniform I would even know, to tell you the truth."
building shields: If Shields were to throw a complete game tonight, he would become the first pitcher to have six through the first 76 games of the season since Pat Hentgen for Toronto in 1997. He also would be the fourth pitcher in the past five years to string together three straight, joining Brandon Webb (2007), CC Sabathia (2008) and Cliff Lee (2010).
"All you can do is build off good outings," Shields said. "And I've been having some pretty good outings lately, so I'm going to try to build off that."
RAYS DAY AT ESPN.COM: First, Steve Berthiaume, a host of Baseball Tonight and an occasional blogger, posted a column saying the Rays "must be moved" out of the Tampa Bay area. Then writer Howard Bryant posted a column that traces the Rays' (and A's) current problems to the greed of owners 20 years ago.
MISCELLANY: Rays pitchers are 0-for-14 in interleague play. The consensus of the infielders is that Davis has the best chance for a hit during the final three games under National League rules. … 3B Evan Longoria is hitting .125 over his past 11 games. … Minute Maid Park will be the first NL venue the Rays have visited in consecutive regular seasons outside of Florida's Sun Life Stadium, where they play annually.