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Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields wins AL player of the week after back-to-back complete game victories

MINNEAPOLIS — RHP James Shields planned to keep a couple of balls and the lineup cards as memorabilia from his back-to-back complete game victories. Now he'll have another souvenir: the American League player of the week award and the Game Time watch that comes with it.

Shields was honored for his stellar performances, beating the White Sox 2-1 for his first win since August then coming back Sunday to shut out the Blue Jays 2-0. For two games, he allowed eight hits (and a .138 average), struck out 16, walked only three and threw 200 pitches total.

With the improvement considered a direct result of a spring training change in his delivery, Shields (2-1, 2.35) believes he can keep pitching this way.

"I feel like I go out and give the team a chance to win every fifth day, but yeah, I'm feeling really good right now," Shields said Sunday. "I'm going to try to stay even-keeled and stay as consistent as I can."

The weekly award was Shields' second; he also won in April 2008 for beating Toronto and Boston. And it was the second straight for a Rays player, as Johnny Damon was co-player of the previous week with Angels RHP Dan Haren.

MINNESOTA NICE: 1B Dan Johnson is looking for something to change after a career-worst start that has him sporting a .131 average, lowest of any player in the majors with at least 60 at-bats.

He's banking that four days at his home just outside Minneapolis, hanging out with sons Kaden and Blake, eating his wife Holly's most-excellent cooking, sleeping in his own bed and visiting with friends and other relatives, can make a difference.

"Hopefully getting home will change up the karma a bit and make everything good," he said.

What's most frustrating, Johnson said, is how well he feels he has been swinging and how bad his luck has been on balls he hits.

"It's been horrendous," he said. "I don't comprehend it. I can't figure it out. I went through a stretch where I was just lining out almost every time, then I got hit in the hand and had like four days off and then I had to get the swing going again. … It feels like there's been 40 guys out there fielding them."

J.P. DUTY: LHP J.P. Howell had a second successful rehab appearance for the extended spring training team, allowing two hits and striking out three over 11/3 innings and throwing 17 of his 25 pitches for strikes.

"Good day, glad to pass another test," Howell texted. "With each step more happiness."

Howell, nearing recovery from May 2010 shoulder surgery, now moves up to the Class A Charlotte Stone Crabs, with plans to start Thursday's game in Port Charlotte, throwing up to 30 pitches. He is expected to rejoin the Rays around May 16-17.

ON TARGET: Manager Joe Maddon is a big fan of Target Field, and not just because the Rays went 3-1 there in its inaugural 2010 season. Maddon likes the look, the layout and the vibe created around the downtown ballpark, dropping a subtle hint regarding the Rays' future.

"Loved it," he said. "Except for a little bit of glare (off the buildings), they did a really good job. The small footprint downtown I think would look really good in other parts of the United States as well. I was very impressed with the facility."

Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields wins AL player of the week after back-to-back complete game victories 04/25/11 [Last modified: Monday, April 25, 2011 10:27pm]

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