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Tampa Bay Rays pitching steps up against two of AL's most potent offenses

James Shields’ shutout caps a six-game run in which Rays pitchers post a 2.21 ERA against the Yankees and Rangers.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

James Shields’ shutout caps a six-game run in which Rays pitchers post a 2.21 ERA against the Yankees and Rangers.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays had been pitching well. But for the past week, they were nothing short of great.

Facing two of the most potent teams in the Yankees, who lead the majors in home runs, and the Rangers, who are tops in hits and runs (and had been shut out only three times before Sunday), the Rays posted a dazzling performance: a 2.21 ERA (14 earned runs) and a .169 opponents average (33 hits) as they went 4-2.

"We're just trying to keep that momentum going, trying to feed off each other," RHP James Shields said. "That's what we're here to do, to pitch well and win ball games."

They're going to need to keep it up, especially this week as they head out to play the two teams ahead of them in the AL East race, the Orioles and their final series of the season with the Yankees.

"We've played great defense, and we've pitched so well," manager Joe Maddon said. "If we could just somehow turn up that offensive dial just a click more on a consistent basis."

HIT AND MISS: With his fifth-inning strikeout, 1B Carlos Peña tied his 2008 team season record of 166, third most in the majors this season behind the White Sox's Adam Dunn and the Yankees' Curtis Granderson.

On the positive side, Peña twice singled to leftfield, going to the opposite field rather than into the shift, his first game with two hits that way since opening day and only his third in three seasons.

"Since the beginning of September, he's been doing a better job of staying on the ball," hitting coach Derek Shelton said. "It's going back to trying to be as simple as possible."

BACKED UP: LF Desmond Jennings was out of the lineup for a second straight game due to lower-back tightness. But he said he was feeling better and planned to come in early today before the team left for Baltimore to get treatment and work out, with plans to return to the lineup Tuesday. Maddon said from what he heard from head athletic trainer Ron Porterfield, that might be the case. "There's a pretty good chance he may play on Tuesday," Maddon said. "I'm not 100 percent sure."

PRICE CHECK: Ace LHP David Price, who skipped his Saturday start due to shoulder soreness, remains on track to start this weekend in New York, though a key test will come Tuesday when he throws a bullpen session. "He said he felt good," Maddon said.

MINOR MATTERS: Short-season Class A Hudson Valley beat Brooklyn (Mets) 8-1 to extend its NY-Penn League playoff series to a third and decisive game tonight, and will have 2011 top draft pick RHP Taylor Guerrieri on the mound. … Double-A Montgomery lost 11-4 to Mobile (D'backs) on Sunday and was eliminated from the Southern League playoffs, three games to one.

MISCELLANY: The Rays wives and girlfriends group, led by Alison Shelton, raised $34,000 for All Children's Hospital with Saturday's Mystery Ball event. … The 2:15 game time was the Rays' shortest of the season. … RHP Burke Badenhop hasn't pitched since Sept. 2 but said there are no physical issues. … The Rays won the season series from Texas 5-4. … Texas starter Roy Oswalt left after two innings with muscle soreness near his elbow.

Tampa Bay Rays pitching steps up against two of AL's most potent offenses 09/09/12 [Last modified: Sunday, September 9, 2012 9:25pm]
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