Shields rested and ready for Game 1
Rays set ALCS rotation; righty to face Dice-K in Friday opener
ST. PETERSBURG -- Rays manager Joe Maddon may be a perpetual outside-the-box-thinker, but when it came to setting his team's American League Championship Series rotation, the third-year skipper went with the tried and true.
The Rays will hand the ball to "Big Game" James Shields on Friday for Game 1 of the best-of-seven series against Boston, which is slated to start at 8:37 p.m. ET at Tropicana Field.
Shields beat White Sox hurler Javier Vazquez in Game 1 of the AL Division Series -- with Shields' only runs allowed coming off DeWayne Wise's three-run home run -- to record the first postseason victory in franchise history.
The rest of the Rays' rotation will mirror the club's ALDS rotation, with Scott Kazmir taking the ball for Saturday's Game 2, Matt Garza set for Game 3 on Monday at Fenway Park, and Andy Sonnanstine more than likely to start Game 4 on Tuesday.
"I try not to get too smart this time of year," Maddon said. "[The rotation] worked well for us with Chicago, so we wanted to stick with it."
Tabbed to set the tone for the Rays' first postseason appearance, Shields is geared up for another chance to lead the club into uncharted territory.
"I've never been [to the ALCS], so let's do it," he said. "I'm excited to get this thing started up, and hopefully we will start it off [with a win] again."
Shields has won eight of his past 11 home starts -- including Game 1 vs. the White Sox on Thursday -- and Maddon was equally hopeful that the Rays' recent history would repeat itself.
"Just like we did the last time," Maddon said. "The day off [Sunday] follows Kaz's start. Primarily this season, Shieldsie has been able to get deeper into games on a more consistent basis with less pitches [than Kazmir]."
A fierce competitor, Shields prides himself on going deep into games regardless of whether he has his best stuff.
Take Shields' June 10 start at Anaheim. The right-hander surrendered six runs on 10 hits, including two home runs, but he walked none and struck out nine. He took the loss, but he pitched a complete game and gave Tampa Bay relievers a much-needed night off.
Shields has worked 215 innings this season -- matching his total from 2007 -- and has thrown three of the Rays' seven complete games.
Far more than just a blue-collar pitcher, Shields has a premier changeup, a plus fastball and curve, and he's recently added a cutter to help throw inside to left-handed hitters. In the past, he has gotten himself into ruts by relying on his changeup too much, allowing opposing hitters to sit on the pitch. Given his current arsenal of pitches, he now gives opposing hitters a lot to think about, and he believes in the importance of fastball command to set up all of his pitches.
Shields vs. Sox in 2008
Shields said the confidence in recording the first win of the ALDS will help him on the mound on Friday, as he takes on a very familiar Red Sox squad.
The right-hander is 2-4 in his career against the Red Sox, with both victories coming at home this year. Shields was also at the forefront of the June 5 fracas at Fenway Park, a bench-clearing incident that started after the right-hander hit Coco Crisp with a pitch to lead off the second inning. Despite the heated rivalry between the two AL East squads, both Shields and Kazmir said there won't be any extra intensity in facing Boston.
"We just know what to expect out of them," Kazmir said. "Everyone's rested, [we] got a good break right here that I'm pretty sure all of us need. So we got [the rotation] set up the way we want."
Kazmir will take the hill on Saturday opposite Josh Beckett, while Shields will go toe-to-toe with 18-game winner Daisuke Matsuzaka.
"I think they had confidence in me last series and I got the job done, and hopefully [I] will get the job done again," Shields said.
The right-hander said he had yet to watch recent video of Boston's batters, and would likely go back and look for any changes at the plate in the last 20 at-bats from each Red Sox starter.
"I'm not expecting too much," Shields said. "Just go out there and pitch my game."
Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.