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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields encouraged by strong season debut

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP James Shields received a standing ovation when he left Saturday's start against the Orioles, having pitched a gem through 71/3 innings.

"That was really fun to watch," manager Joe Maddon said. "He was really, really good."

The Rays said it's just too bad he couldn't leave with a win.

Shields was impressive in his season debut, allowing just four hits in a 102-pitch outing. He was charged with two runs, given up when Orioles 2B Brian Roberts hit a three-run homer off LH reliever Jake McGee with one out in the eighth.

Shields was encouraged with how his improved mechanics and more compact delivery had him pitching. He said he was able to locate his fastball as well as he could and threw all his offspeed pitches for strikes.

"I felt I could have pitched a couple more innings, that's how strong I feel right now," Shields said. "If I keep pitching like that, I suppose I'm going to get some wins throughout the season."

Maddon has said Shields, who had a career-high 15 losses and a 5.18 ERA last season, is primed for a bounceback.

"I'll tell you what," Maddon said. "If he stays right there delivery-wise, he's going to pitch like that a lot this year."

WADING IN: RHP Wade Davis says he's much more relaxed entering his second full big-league season, and he has many reasons to be.

Davis established himself with 12 wins as a rookie, along with a victory in the postseason, and recently signed a seven-year deal worth up to $35 million.

What also helps is that Davis learned a lot from his experience last year, which he'll carry into today's start against the Orioles.

"I think I'm understanding a lot more than I did at this point last year," said Davis, 25. "I know I don't have to go out and try to throw the ball as hard as I can every pitch to get guys out. I think I've understood I can take a step back and pitch a little bit more instead of just throwing."

THE FIRSTS: DH Manny Ramirez picked up his first hit as a Ray, an RBI single in the eighth. LF Johnny Damon played first base in the ninth inning for the first time since a one-inning stint May 15, 2008, with the Yankees — against the Rays at the Trop. "It definitely felt weird," he said, smiling.

LINING UP: Maddon said C Kelly Shoppach started against RHP Chris Tillman because Tillman is more of a neutral-type pitcher, pretty similar vs. lefties/righties. Plus, Maddon said Shoppach made some strides against right-handers in the spring. Shoppach will also start today.

Ramirez said he's going to play leftfield today and made sure to get in some work pregame Saturday on shagging fly balls and getting comfortable out there. "I'll try my best," he said.

MISCELLANY: RHPs Kyle Farns­worth and Joel Peralta will sign autographs from noon to 12:30 today along the rightfield line. … LHP Cesar Ramos' number changed from 55 to 27, which he wore in high school and at Long Beach State. … Davis will have his head shaved after the game on top of the dugout by a young pediatric cancer patient to support the Cut for the Cure.

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields encouraged by strong season debut 04/02/11 [Last modified: Sunday, April 3, 2011 1:13pm]
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