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08/17/10 6:55 PM ET

Former mates meet in Rangers-Rays finale

Being drafted by the Rays just a year apart, Wednesday's starter for Tampa Bay, James Shields and current Rangers outfielder Josh Hamilton became close throughout their years in the Minor League ranks.

While their paths eventually deviated, as Shields continued with the Rays and Hamilton took the road less traveled, the two will play opposite one another in the final game of a three-game set at Tropicana Field.

Although the Rangers and Rays stand atop their respective divisions with just over a month of baseball to be played, Hamilton's and Shields' seasons have varied drastically.

Shields, once the epitome of consistency, has struggled all year. In his last two outings, the right-hander has surrendered 12 earned runs on 19 hits -- six of which were home runs to the Blue Jays Aug. 7.

Both manager Joe Maddon and Shields believe the key to a successful outing is getting off to a fast start.

"I don't like it when he has to work too hard for his outs early," Maddon said. "In other words, when he starts throwing all of his arsenal early -- the changeup, the curveball, etc. -- it's never really a good day for him. When he's throwing his fastball, they might hit a couple balls hard, but he normally gets out of it with a ball hit at somebody or a popup on a well-placed fastball.

"I think Shieldsy always does his best when early in the game he doesn't have to work as hard for his outs, because when he has to later, he can. That's how I see it."

Hamilton on the other hand, is having a season to remember. Entering Wednesday's contest, the former first overall pick in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft was hitting .359 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs.

Despite tagging Shields for a two-run home run during their last meeting June 5 in Arlington, the Rays right-hander had nothing but encouraging words for his former teammate.

"I've seen everything that's gone on with him and the struggles that he went through with us," Shields said. "I'm just really happy for him. You go to the bottom of the barrel, you're pretty much on the streets and doing all the drugs, and to come back and bat .359 right now, leading the American League in hitting -- that's pretty good."

Hoping to get some run support from Hamilton and avoid a three-game sweep will be Rangers starter Derek Holland. The 23-year old returns to the rotation after Rich Harden was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis.

In his last five Major League appearances, spanning May 12-30, the lefty posted a 4.19 ERA over 19 1/3 innings. In 10 starts with Triple-A Oklahoma City, Holland went 6-2 with a 1.91 ERA.

Rangers: Stop the bleeding
Tuesday night's 10-1 romp marked the Rangers' fourth straight road loss. It is the team's longest road losing streak since four defeats in a row, May 26-30. ... Third baseman Michael Young received a rare day off on Tuesday, citing stiffness in his neck area. He had started 116 of the team's 117 games, with the lone off day coming on July 6 vs. the Indians.

Rays: Don't mess with my routine
Shields, who will pitch on regular four days' rest, has made it clear that's the routine he most prefers. On normal rest this season, Shields boasts a 5-4 mark with a 4.15 ERA. With an additional day, which was the case Aug. 7 vs. the Blue Jays (eight earned runs), Shields has an ERA of 5.94 with an opponents batting average of .314.

"I like to pitch on the five-day rotation," Shields said. "I don't like to get too many days off. It kind of messes up the routine a little bit. But I guess rest is always good. But for me, I like to pitch every fifth day."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.