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Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields superb coming off poor start

ST. PETERSBURG — For all the things that went right for the Rays in Wednesday's 9-1 win, from the successful bunts to big homers, manager Joe Maddon made sure one key aspect wasn't overlooked.

"It all happens because you get a great performance by your starting pitcher," he said.

RHP James Shields delivered another strong outing, allowing one run and three hits over 71/3 innings and bouncing back nicely from the worst start of his season one week earlier (10 runs, 12 hits in Oakland).

Shields said he made some adjustments during his between-starts bullpen session, making his delivery more compact so that he could keep the ball down more effectively.

"I think in the first inning, I was just a little amped up," Shields said. "But after that, I settled in nice."

LOADING UP: Maddon has called his team's struggles with the bases loaded — specifically, with nobody out — "crazy" and puzzling.

The Rays entered Wednesday's game having four hits in their past 27 plate appearances with the bases loaded, and they went scoreless in six of their past seven opportunities with the bases full and nobody out.

Simply put, Maddon feels hitters should try to simplify things, focus on scoring "just one" run at a time and putting the ball in play.

That's exactly what DH Johnny Damon did with one out in the second, hitting a sacrifice fly to center. In the seventh, LF Desmond Jennings struck out with the bases loaded and two out.

"We've had some situations where we may have hit the ball relatively well, but for the most part, it's a lot of strikeouts," Maddon said. "It's just a mind-set, an approach, it's, again, not trying to do too much."

JOYFUL JOYCE: OF Matt Joyce celebrated his 27th birthday Wednesday with a bang, going 3-for-4 with a double, his first three-hit game since July 16. "It was a great day," he said. "Celebrating your birthday, getting some hits, getting an (RBI) in there, a hit off a lefty — man, that's a good day."

CATCHING ON: Maddon said he has been comfortable with rookie C Robinson Chirinos behind the plate, both how he receives the ball and calls a game.

But Maddon was hoping to see more at the plate: Chirinos entered Wednesday 4-for-28 since doubling in his first big-league at-bat and had been expanding the strike zone. That's why, even more than Chirinos' three-run homer and bunt single, Maddon was happy with his two walks.

"He's good — he's very good," Maddon said of Chirinos. "But I really took the walks as a really good sign."

WADING IN: One key to RHP Wade Davis' rebound after a five-run first inning in his last start was re-incorporating his slider, something Maddon would like to see him do more .

Maddon said Davis didn't use the slider as much before due to the forearm strain that landed him on the disabled list. Davis said an issue in the early struggles in Oakland was hitters fouling off pitches even though he felt like he had good stuff.

"I like his curveball a lot, but his slider is really the one that gets the swing and miss," Maddon said.

MISCELLANY: The Rays passed the 1 million mark in attendance (1,003,740), the last AL team to do so. … RHP Jeremy Hellickson's next start was pushed back a day until Monday as the Rays continue to try to manage his innings. … The Rays signed their fourth-round pick, Arizona State 3B Riccio Torrez, and have now signed 16 of their top 21 picks. … Jennings and RHP Alex Cobb visited All Children's Hospital Wednesday morning as part of "Rays Kids Spirits Day," interacting with patients and handing out Rays/Sagicor pillows.

Tampa Bay Rays starter James Shields superb coming off poor start 08/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, August 4, 2011 1:07am]

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