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Tampa Bay Rays set ALDS rotation

ST. PETERSBURG — Rays manager Joe Maddon insisted there were several good reasons behind the decision to pitch struggling starter James Shields in Game 2 of the division series Thursday at Tropicana Field.

But the simplest thing is that it might have been a better decision than pitching him in Game 3 or 4 in Texas.

Once the Rays got past the uncomfortable issue of whether Shields should be in the rotation — he will be, joining David Price, Matt Garza and Wade Davis, with Jeff Niemann apparently heading to the bullpen — they clearly felt more comfortable pitching him at home.

"We did like the idea of James pitching here," Maddon said.

Enough so that they were willing to bump Garza, their next most successful starter after Price, from the pivotal second game of the best-of-five series to Game 3.

Part of that is because of how Shields, who is 13-15, 5.18 overall, and winless since August, has done at Tropicana Field. He is 5-7 with a 4.53 ERA and .763 OPS at home this season compared to 8-5, 5.82, .889 on the road. For his career, he is 32-21, 3.60, .707 at home, while 25-30, 5.00, .815 on the road.

Another part appears to be concern over how Shields, who has allowed the most hits (246) in the majors and homers (34) in the American League, would pitch in Texas, where the Rangers are a significantly more potent offense.

"Without giving up all of our inner secrets, I'm sure you could look through all the statistical information and try to glean why we would do it," Maddon said. "There's a whole bunch of different thoughts and philosophies behind the whole thing. From the media perspective, I think you can create conjecture regarding why we did what we did. There's a variety of different reasons, and a lot of it has to do statistically, possibly."

One statistic that isn't in their favor is Garza's past performance in Arlington, where he is 2-3 with a 6.04 ERA in five starts.

Where to slot Shields appeared to be the biggest issue the Rays faced in setting the rotation after Price, who will work Wednesday's opener, and a potential Game 5 on Oct. 12, in aces-high matchups with Cliff Lee.

With Garza, who can be oblivious to outside distractions, handling the road opener, that left Davis, the 25-year-old rookie in his first full season, for the pressure of a potential elimination/clinching Game 4 on the road.

"Let me tell you this, it wasn't easy to come up with this rotation in regard to A-B-C-D," Maddon said. "We went back and forth a lot. There was a variety of different reasons why we chose the particular order that we did. … There was a pretty good argument, or discussion, that went back and forth a lot."

Though the Rays weren't confident enough that Niemann had regained his pre-disabled list form to include him in the rotation, they apparently were comfortable enough with his one-inning relief outing Sunday to use him in relief — perhaps with the idea that he'd be almost "paired" with Shields in the event of a bad start.

"We liked what Jeff did out of the bullpen (Sunday)," Maddon said. "So you can read into that a little bit."

Maddon declined to discuss other aspects of the 25-man roster, which the Rays have to set by 10 a.m. Wednesday.

With Niemann in the pen, it would seem 10 of the 11 pitching slots are set, leaving them to pick from Jeremy Hellickson, Dan Wheeler and Jake McGee for the last.

Similarly, 12 of the 14 position player slots seem claimed with discussions remaining about such choices as outfielder/DH Rocco Baldelli vs. infielder/DH Willy Aybar, and Dioner Navarro as a third catcher vs. Desmond Jennings as a pinch-runner. Also in play could be outfielder/DH Brad Hawpe.

Marc Topkin can be reached at topkin@sptimes.com

Pitcher vs. Texas (2010) at Texas (career)

Game 1David Price 0-0, 3.00 0-1, 15.63

Game 2James Shields 1-1, 2.57 1-2, 5.14

Game 3Matt Garza 2-0, 2.84 2-3, 6.04

Game 4Wade Davis 0-1, 21.60 0-1, 21.60

AL division series

game 1

Rays vs. Rangers

1:37 Wednesday, TBS, 620-AM

game 2

Rays vs. Rangers

2:37 Thursday, TBS, 620-AM

game 3

Rays at Rangers

5:07 Saturday, TBS, 620-AM

game 4*

Rays at Rangers

TBA Sunday, TBS, 620-AM

game 5*

Rays vs. Rangers

TBA Oct. 12, TBS, 620-AM

* if necessary

Will their bubble burst?

Rays lefty ace David Price is on the cover of Sports Illustrated's playoffs preview edition, doing what else — acting silly. Price is the first Ray to pose for the cover and the third to appear — Carl Crawford was featured in a cartoon cover and Rocco Baldelli in an action shot from the 2008 World Series.

Times staff

Tampa Bay Rays set ALDS rotation 10/04/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 12:14am]
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