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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields gets overdue reward against Kansas City Royals

James Shields (5-4), tied for the staff lead in wins, flips to first to retire Willie Bloomquist in the eighth. He struck out eight.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times

James Shields (5-4), tied for the staff lead in wins, flips to first to retire Willie Bloomquist in the eighth. He struck out eight.

ST. PETERSBURG — Right-hander James Shields delivered another strong, eight-inning start Thursday, and is tied for the staff lead with five wins.

But to 1B Carlos Peña, Shields "very well deserves five more."

Shields has often been on the wrong end of some hard-luck starts (the Rays scored just 19 runs in his 621/3 innings over his last nine appearances). There have been four outings where he has gone at least five innings and given up three runs or less but had a no-decision or loss.

So when the pitcher battled through for another impressive start, his teammates were glad to finally reward him with his second straight victory.

Shields (5-4) smiled but said all that matters is the team getting the victory. He said he felt he didn't have his best stuff but grinded through, bouncing back after a 27-pitch third inning that resulted in his only two runs.

"You saw typical Shieldsy," manager Joe Maddon said. "He's probably his own harshest critic, so you don't really have to beat him up a whole lot. He likes the idea of being at the head of the line, he wants to lead change, and I think that's great."

VERY CLOSE: 3B Evan Lon­goria was happy with how his sore left hamstring felt after going through his usual pregame routine Thursday afternoon — including hitting in the cage: "Everything feels normal."

Longoria, who missed his second straight game, was available to pinch-hit, saying he hopes to return today, and, if not, "definitely" by Saturday in New York.

Longoria, the majors' RBI leader and AL leader in All-Star votes, said he's still a day or two-away in terms of getting up to full speed, joking "a double will be a single for a day or two."

Longoria was injured running to first on a groundout Tuesday.

"When I'm ready to play, I want to be as close to 100 percent as I can be — both physically and mentally, confidence-wise," he said. "I think if I try to rush back and feel any type of discomfort or don't have full confidence in it, it's gonna be a hindrance to me. But I'm pretty close."

TOUGH OUT: LHP J.P. Howell's seven-pitch save wasn't without a little drama, as RF Matt Joyce made an interesting catch at the warning track after losing a Billy Butler fly ball in the roof. Joyce, who was making his third start in right at the Trop, said he's still getting used to his depth perception, turning a routine play into an "adventure" basket catch.

"He kind of made it into a nice catch," Maddon said. "Sometimes you put the thrill back into the routine."

A BIG STEP: SS Jason Bartlett has been encouraged by his progress with his sprained left ankle. Considering he couldn't even walk down steps a few days ago, Bartlett said he took the biggest step Wednesday in jogging. He also hit off a tee in the batting cage. Bartlett planned to do the same Thursday, trying for a normal swing.

He has done some light running but will test it this weekend running an arc, and, if all goes well, he said he may not need a minor-league rehab assignment.

Though he doesn't want to give a timetable, he isn't sure he'll able to return Wednesday when he's eligible.

PRICE CHECK: Rookie LHP David Price will start today opposite CC Sabathia. Price is a big fan of the Yankees left-hander. The matchup might create some buzz from fans, but Price is more focused on building off his last start, when he struck out 11 in 52/3 innings, benefiting from throwing early strikes. He pitched in the old Yankee Stadium last year in relief, saying the experience helped.

MINOR MATTERS: RHP Chad Bradford made his first appearance for Montgomery on Wednesday, giving up two hits and a run in one inning. …RHP Wade Davis recorded a Durham season-high 13 strikeouts.

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields gets overdue reward against Kansas City Royals 06/04/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 5, 2009 6:37am]

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