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Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields has best outing of season

ST. PETERSBURG — RHP James Shields says his stuff has been getting better with each start.

It was just a matter of time before the results followed.

Shields put it all together Tuesday night against the A's, pitching 8 1/3 scoreless innings for his best outing of the season and longest this year by any Rays starter.

"I just think he had really good command tonight," manager Joe Maddon said. "Everything was working. … He was on the top of his game."

Shields had come off two rough outings in which he had given up five runs and 10 hits in each; the last one against the Indians, he said his emotions got the better of him.

But Tuesday, Shields showed flashes of dominance, retiring 17 consecutive hitters at one point. He was also efficient; after throwing 26 pitches in the first, he tossed 72 over the next 7 1/3.

"I feel like I'm right there," Shields said. "Once May started, everything started clicking. The last couple outings, it's been one inning here or there. I stayed focused tonight and tried to do the best I could."

BACK ON TRACK: LHP Scott Kazmir said he has had a breakthrough in figuring out how to fix the mechanical issues that have him in his recent funk.

Kazmir worked on it during his last bullpen session, which he said went "great." But he said the biggest thing in tonight's start is not thinking about mechanics, and just pitching.

"That's what I need to do, because I'm not," Kazmir said. "I'm going out there, I'm thinking, 'I need to keep my foot down,' just thinking about things as I'm delivering the ball, and you can't be successful like that."

In his past four starts, Kazmir is 1-2 with a 10.61 ERA, with opponents hitting .386 against him.

Maddon said such overthinking happens to many players, including hitters, and has a negative impact. Kazmir agreed: "It just snowballs when you do stuff like that." WAIT AND SEE: C Dioner Navarro was originally in Tuesday's lineup but was scratched for the second straight game with pinkeye. He said it started to bother him last week and has been "really uncomfortable." Navarro did pinch hit, flying out to leftfield in the ninth, then stayed in the game and popped out in the 11th.

SWITCH IT UP: With DH Pat Burrell on the disabled list, Maddon has put slugging utilityman Ben Zobrist (Monday) and red-hot SS Jason Bartlett (Tuesday) in the fifth spot to protect cleanup hitter Carlos Pena. Maddon said he noticed teams pitching around Pena , which has resulted in him swinging at pitches out of his zone.

Pena has gone a seasonlong 11 games and 39 at-bats without a homer and is 8-for-47 (.170) in his past 14 games.

"I don't think he's gotten anything really good to hit," Maddon said. "I think when you're not getting really good pitches to drive, then you come out of your own element. I talked to him about that (Monday); I tried to encourage him to just take the walk and don’t start expanding."

STATUS QUO: Maddon said the Rays have talked about adding another hitter for this weekend's interleague series with the Marlins. But with it being just a three-game series, "I don't think it’s a horrible thought to go there with four guys on the bench," Maddon said.

MISCELLANY: The club record-tying streak of 21 games scoring three or more runs ended. … The Rays stole three bases, making them the sixth team since 1980 to reach 70 through 41 games. … RHP Matt Garza is scheduled to visit Lealman Intermediate School in St. Petersburg today as part of the "Take Matt to Class" contest. The winning student was sixth-grader Megan Teer.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields has best outing of season 05/19/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 20, 2009 6:42am]
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