Shields driven to be Rays' No. 1 starter
Determined righty thrives on facing opponents' aces
ST. PETERSBURG -- James Shields appeared to be in top condition while meeting with reporters before Rays teammate B.J. Upton's recent golf tournament.
And why wouldn't the Tampa Bay right-hander be in good shape?
Once the offseason hits, Shields is driven to put in the work that will allow him to again be the Rays' most durable pitcher and one of the top workhorse in baseball.
Shields said he followed a similar workout routine this offseason.
"Pretty much the same stuff," said Shields, noting that the finishing stages of his workouts heading into Spring Training included more cardio work, which left him looking lean and prompted one reporter to ask if he would be ready to don the Speedo this spring. Shields smiled.
"Not wearing the Speedo," he said. "I'm not that toned. I'm a firm believer in pitchers having a little fat on them."
Don't question what Shields does during the offseason, because whatever it is he's doing, it works. In each of his first three full seasons in the Major Leagues (2007-09), Tampa Bay's No. 1 starter has surpassed 200 innings, accruing 649 2/3 innings in 97 starts, including a career-high 219 2/3 innings last season.
Shields managed to continue his same workouts the past two offseasons despite disrupting his routine by relocating from Las Vegas to a year-round residence in Clearwater, Fla. The easygoing Shields shrugged his shoulders when asked about the change.
"It's just kind of one of those things where I have the same program going," Shields said. "Not the exact same facilities. Even [in Las Vegas], I was pretty much on my own, I knew what I had to get done."
While Shields put in the necessary work before the 2009 season, and the innings again were there, his numbers took a slight tumble as he went 11-12, down from 14-8 in '08, and his ERA rose from 3.56 to 4.14.
"I look back and I feel I pitched well," Shields said. "I think the only thing that shows up as far as my stats go is my ERA, and it's not even that bad, I don't think. When you're in the American League East and you're facing the Yankees, Boston and Toronto -- all these teams are good hitting teams -- you're going to go through some ups and downs."
|"It's definitely a learning process. [The 2009 season was] the first year that I've really stepped into the No. 1 slot and pitched against No. 1 pitchers the whole year. I'm going to learn from it. There's nothing I can do different. I'm a bulldog out there. I take on all challenges. I'm not scared of anybody. But I like that. I like facing the No. 1. I hope I have the chance to do that again."|
|-- James Shields|
Since arriving midseason in 2006, Shields' body of work has been marked by consistency, save for an occasional big inning. Finding a way to limit the damage during said eruptions has been something Shields hopes to accomplish.
"You can't recognize [the symptoms of a big inning] until after the fact," Shields said. "It's after the fact. All you can do is learn from what you did the night before. You definitely can begin to recognize situations, though. I think I pitched in the most close games of my career [in 2009]. [It] seemed like I was in a close game every outing. [I] felt like I only had a handful of games where they weren't that close. The good news is I kept my team in the game and gave us a chance to win."
Shields pitched in the No. 1 slot for the first time in his career in 2009, which can be heady stuff for a pitcher in the AL East, who must face off against the likes of CC Sabathia and Josh Beckett on a regular basis.
Rays manager Joe Maddon believes Shields is well qualified for the role.
"He's got the stuff to do it," Maddon said. "He pitches deep into the games. If he doesn't have the lead, he can catch it later on by keeping it close. He's very durable. He's definitely got the mind-set. He's very driven to be the best."
Facing No. 1 starters outside of the division proved to be no picnic, either. On one memorable occasion last season, Shields locked up against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez on April 23 in Seattle. Shields allowed a home run to Ichiro on his second pitch of the game, then allowed nothing. Unfortunately for Shields and the Rays, Hernandez put up all goose eggs. Shields got lifted with one out in the eighth after allowing just one run and four hits in an eventual 1-0 loss.
"It's definitely a learning process," Shields said. "[The 2009 season was] the first year that I've really stepped into the No. 1 slot and pitched against No. 1 pitchers the whole year. I'm going to learn from it. There's nothing I can do different. I'm a bulldog out there. I take on all challenges. I'm not scared of anybody. But I like that. I like facing the No. 1. I hope I have the chance to do that again."
Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.