James Shields has many tricks in his hat. Today we saw a good example of that. While holding the Royals to just two runs on six hits over eight strong innings, Shields used a variety of different pitches to comprise his total of 107 pitches. While using a variety of pitches, he did not allow a walk and struck out eight. No, it wasn't as good as Jeff Niemann's two-hitter, but it was pretty damn good.
Unlike Niemann, who featured a fastball 70% of the time, Shields threw a combined 32 fastballs (avg 90 mph) and just three cutters (avg 89 mph) on the night. Instead, Big Game James kept the Royals off balance with a variety of off speed pitches and breaking balls. He threw his signature change up (avg 81 mph) mph 27% of the time, his curveball (avg 76 mph) 22%, and continues to increase the amount of sliders (avg 85 mph) at 18%.
At times Shields got a bit too cute with the soft stuff and it cost him against Billy Butler, who went 3-3 against the Rays' starter including a two run double than ended up as the only blemish on Shields's box score line. With the bases loaded and no outs, Shields induced the good ol' 1-2-3 double play to quiet the Kansas City threat. However, after getting ahead on Butler, he went with a change-up and then left a slider over the plate that Butler laced into a gap for two runs. At this point Shields barreled down and limited the damage as we've seen so many times.
While a small percentage of games get away from him, today's effort was quite the Shieldsian effort we expect; a small patch of trouble followed by excellent and quality innings. After that 27 pitch third inning, Shields pitch by inning count went like this: 10,9,12,12,9. The man is efficient.
With the Rays needing a sweep to get back to .500 and cap an impressive 5-1 homestand, Shields and J.P. Howell delivered. It also helps to have timely home runs hit by B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford. Fresh off his 11K outing David Price will take the mound for the Rays tomorrow. Hopefully this game of "one upmenship" in the rotation continues.