Rays thriving behind locked-in pitching staff

Rays thriving behind locked-in pitching staff

ST. PETERSBURG -- Manager Joe Maddon said earlier this week that he firmly believed the Rays' pitching staff would get into a "really significant good roll" once the starters got settled to begin the season. Turns out, they're already on one.

Tampa Bay's pitching staff has put together a 2.03 ERA over the last nine games, starting April 16 at Boston, to lower its team ERA from a season-high 6.75 to 4.33. The Rays have gone 7-2 over that nine-game stretch and have won their last four games, heading into Thursday.

"We're definitely playing well. There's always room to improve, there's no doubt about it," right-hander James Shields said. "But I think our starting pitching has been phenomenal the last couple games. That's where it all starts. It all starts with us. If we keep the team in the game as long as we can, it's going to be good."

Maddon said he thought all his starters, with the exception of Shields, were trying to be too careful and too fine instead of just pounding the strike zone. But they've improved on that lately, and the differences between the first and last nine games are noticeable.

In their first nine games, Rays pitchers gave up 57 earned runs on 84 hits, 42 walks and 10 homers with only 49 strikeouts in 76 innings. Since then? Try 18 earned runs on 66 hits, 29 walks and five homers with 66 strikeouts in 80 innings.