The Tampa Bay Rays (22-15) return to Tropicana Field after winning yet another road series. The Rays have now pushed their road record to 13-5, despite coming in this week to the best home team in 2011. The Cleveland Indians (23-14) came into the series with a home winning streak, which the Rays have now turned into a 2-game losing streak.
James Shields (4-1) continued his string of great outings today, going 7 innings while allowed only 2 runs on 7 hits, 1 walk, and 7 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Justin Masterson (5-1) took his first loss of the season while pitching 5.2 otherwise forgettable innings.
Like yesterday, the Rays took the lead early and did not look back. Shields encountered only one difficult inning, the sixth, in which he allowed 2 runs on a homer, a double, and a single. The Rays, however, loaded the bases early and often against the Indians, scoring 4 runs in the second inning, 1 run in the 6th, and 2 more in the 9th -- all despite a combined 22 runners left of base.
Reid Brignac got his first extra base hit of the season, a two-run double to left field that break the early 0-0 tie. At first, Brignac could not see the ball and thought it had sailed foul. While he was standing at the plate, David Price began to yell at him from the dugout, at which point Brignac began rounding the bases.
Johnny Damon also had two hits, a pair of bloopers, which helped him catch Tim Raines's 2605 hits.
Shields also collected 2 more pickoffs today (though 1 of them was a bad call) and now leads the league with 7 -- despite the disadvantage of being a right-handed pitcher.
The Tampa Bays Rays (23-15) look to finish their road trip with a win today, sending "Big Game" James Shields (3-1, 2.01 ERA, 3.06 FIP) out to face former Boston Red Sox pitcher, Justin Masterson (5-0, 2.11 ERA, 2.86 FIP). The Cleveland Indians (23-12) will look to start a new home winning streak behind their number three starter, who has began the season at an incredible pace.
Advanced statistics (such as BABIP and LOB%) suggest both Shields and Masterson have been recipients of good fortune in the early going this season. Despite that, they are still two elite pitchers who could easily take control of the game if they have control of their arsenals.
Unfortunately for the Rays, center fielder B.J. Upton will be out of action today as he serves the second and final game of his suspension for arguing with home plate umpire Chad Fairchild (on a late-game call that Fairchild clearly missed). The Rays' have enough flexibility to employ a variety of different options, today shifting Sam Fuld from left to center while putting Matt Joyce in left field.
Elliot Johnson gets the start at second base as Ben Zobrist shifts to right. Johnson hit very well in Triple-A during the 2010 season, but has thus far hit poorly with the Rays. His limited playing time negatively effects his chances at improving, but do not be surprised if the switch-hitter gets hot any day now.
Kelly Shoppach gets the start today after John Jaso played late last night. Shoppach does not usually play against right-handed pitchers, but has caught all of Shields's games this year. He will likely struggle against the elite Justin Masterson.
The Rays continue to roll with the ever-lucky Casey Kotchman. Expect his bat to also cool off in the coming days, but hopefully not too much! If he regresses to his career norms, he may start to lose playing time to Dan Johnson.