ST. PETERSBURG -- Manager Joe Maddon announced the Rays' starting rotation for the first round of the playoffs on Tuesday afternoon, and he didn't surprise anybody when he said James Shields will start Game 1 of their American League Division Series, which begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on Thursday at Tropicana Field.
"It's an amazing feeling to me," Shields said. "I've worked really hard this whole season, and this whole team has. To have the honor of pitching my first game of the playoffs, let alone the first game of the playoffs, it's just a great feeling."
Toward the end of the season, Maddon liked having Shields start the front end of two doubleheaders against the Yankees and Orioles because of his ability to go deep into a game. In theory, having Shields pitch the first game of the doubleheader would save the bullpen. Maddon said that mentality factored into Tuesday's decision.
"You can look at it that way," Maddon said. "You pretty much know that Shields can go deep into the game. Kaz obviously has not gone deep into the games, but normally you're pretty much in the game by the time he leaves and you have a pretty good chance to win.
"And then, of course, you have the buffer, the next day, the off-day, with the bullpen. Just some common sense applied to it. And we just decided to go this way right now."
Shields went 14-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 33 starts, compiling 215 innings for the second consecutive season. Shields did not sound concerned about the prospect of moving past his career high for innings pitched.
"The good news is I feel real good," Shields said. "I feel a lot better than I did last year at the end of the year. These playoffs are going to rejuvenate me. No worries about my condition."
Refreshingly, Shields did not act like the playoffs were just another game.
"You've got to try [to treat it like it's another game], but I'll be honest with you, it's not like a regular game, it's a playoff atmosphere," Shields said. "I've never been there before. There's a bunch of guys on our team who have and they've told me what it's like, and I'm looking forward to the challenge. This is the kind of game I want to be in."
Kazmir sounded surprised the Rays were going with four starters rather than five, with Edwin Jackson being the odd man out.
"You'd think you'd want all five of us going out there with what we did and how we're throwing right now," Kazmir said.
For his part, Kazmir does not mind pitching in the second slot.
"I'm happy to go out there and get to pitch in October," Kazmir said.
The Rays left-hander expressed disappointment about his season after taking the loss against the Tigers on Thursday in Detroit. He finished the season at 12-8 with a 3.49 ERA.
"[I] felt like I wanted to get out there the next day to redeem myself," Kazmir said.
In his final regular-season outing, Kazmir struggled to find his mechanics, something he has had trouble with most of the season. But he said he's felt good during his side sessions since.
"I threw a couple of times off the mound," Kazmir said. "Every time I felt really comfortable, so I'm very excited, feels like everything is good."
Garza will start Game 3. In his final tuneup for the postseason, he showed the kind of electric life on his pitches that has prompted many in the organization to say he has the best stuff on the staff. Garza went 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA in 2008.
"I feel great," said Garza, whose last start came after missing a turn in the rotation. "I feel real fresh. I was rusty pitch-selection wise [in my last outing], but I'm working out those kinks and I watched a lot of film, and I'm going to watch a lot more film on my next opponent."
Sonnanstine, who went 13-9 with a 4.38 ERA, will start Game 4. Maddon said Sonnanstine's strike-throwing ability proved to be a deciding factor for chosing him over Jackson.
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.