For the old dog, James Shields, it has been a mix of new and old tricks in 2010. When in doubt, he's still going to his fantastic change up, but there is something new working for Big Game this year. Shields said he's changed some things in his mechanics that have him throwing harder than he ever has at this level. Coming into play tonight/morning, Shields was averaging almost 92 mph on his fastball; nearly a mile and a half over his career average. In this game hit 95 on the TV gun, and 94.8 on pitch f/x.
The increased velocity on the fastball, and the plus change-up, has turned Shields into a strikeout machine. After striking out 12 batters in his last start, Shields struck out 10 more batters on the evening. He has 43 strikeouts in 40 innings of work this year - good for a strikeout per nine of 9.6. His previous career high is 7.70. Of course, it's early, but definitely something to monitor.
Once again, Shields faced the "escape or explode inning" in this game. In the sixth inning, the Mariners had four hits and received a run on a wild pitch. It would be the only run they scored in the frame. At the breaking point of the inning, Shields had the bases loaded with one out facing two lefties, Milton Bradley and Ken Griffey Jr.Like we've seen more often than not, Shields was able to escape the jam by getting two strikeouts including three straight change-ups to Griffey. In the very next inning, Shields would retire the side on just four pitches.
Speaking of the change-up, Shields continues to get an amazing amount of whiffs on his bread and butter pitch. In his first five starts, Shields got a swing and a miss nearly a quarter of the time (24.2%) on the off-speed pitch. According to this game's data, he threw 20 change-ups with six of them inducing whiffs. A 30% whiff rate is pretty nasty, folks.
Behind Shields, the Rays would score five runs on the evening. Unlike most games this season, the offense spread out their runs by scoring one run in five different innings. Evan Longoria blasted a no-doubt solo shot and Ben Zobrist had an RBI double. Reid Brignac and Willy Aybar would add RBI singles of their own. Also hat tip to the Mariners defense - namely Jack Wilson - for making four errors and a few wild pitches.
Shields ran into some trouble in the ninth, but unlike last year bullpen debacle in Seattle, Rafael Soriano promptly shut the door the Mariners attempted comeback. Take that Langerhans!