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Shields eyes 20-win season

Shields eyes 20-win season with Rays

James Shields has continued to progress as a pitcher every season since joining the Rays' rotation in 2006. Now, given his ability to pitch late into the game and the improved team he plays for, the idea of winning 20 games appears a legitimate possibility for Tampa Bay's Opening Day starter.

But before Shields could embark on his quest, Mother Nature interceded with rain Monday, forcing the Rays to delay their season opener vs. the Red Sox until Tuesday at 4:05 p.m. ET.

"Yeah, of course he could [win 20]," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "He's got the stuff to do it. He pitches deep into the games, which permits him to. If he doesn't have the lead, he can catch it later on by keeping it close. He's very durable. He's pitched what, 215 [innings] the last two years in a row. He's definitely got the mind-set. He's very driven to be the best."

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Four pitchers won 20 games in the Major Leagues in 2008: Mike Mussina, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Brandon Webb. Shields has thought about the possibility of reaching the pitching milestone.

"I have, I have," Shields said. "I think winning 20 games requires a bunch of things to go right. You have to have a good team that's around you, and I have that. Defense is important. I think last year we had a great defense and we won a lot of games that way.

"One of the tough things is pitching in the American League East. Every time out, you're facing top-line pitchers. Most of the good pitchers are in the American League East right now."

Shields learned a valuable lesson in 2008. Simply stated, he needed to get into a better routine on the road. His road numbers were drastically different than his numbers at home, which prompted some introspection on Shields' part. Eventually, Shields addressed the situation with Maddon and pitching coach Jim Hickey.

"I brought it up to them," Shields said. "Over the last three years, obviously, I've been a lot better at home than I have been on the road.

"I'm a big routine guy. I realized that at home, obviously, it's easy to get into a routine, because you have all the amenities. Everything you need [is] right there in front of you. On the road, they've only got a couple of tubs. And we take BP second on the road, so everyone's in the clubhouse late. Everyone's using the tub. Basically what it was, it was kind of like I wasn't getting ready on time, or I wasn't getting ready soon enough, or too quickly. I'm a big routine guy."

If Shields indeed manages to shore up his road woes -- where his career ERA is 1.43 higher than at Tropicana Field -- winning 20 appears a realistic goal.

"It's kind of funny, I have a goal every year," Shields said. "It's to beat whatever I did the season before, and anything above that is a bonus to me. Thinking about being a 20-game winner is not as realistic a goal as me pitching 200 innings or having an ERA at a certain number. I'm just going to try and keep the team in the ballgame as long as I can."

With Shields on the hill, the Rays will begin the season with their best lineup in the organization's brief history. From top to bottom, there is balance, speed and some power, including new additions in Pat Burrell and Gabe Kapler.

The Rays went 10-8 against the Red Sox in 2008 en route to claiming the AL East. In the AL Championship Series, Tampa Bay then took four out of seven to advance to the World Series. There is no evidence to suggest this budding rivalry won't be as good or even better in 2009.

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP James Shields (14-8, 3.56 ERA in 2008)
Shields built a reputation as a pitcher who will do whatever is necessary to pitch his team into the seventh or eighth innings, which is evidenced by back-to-back seasons with 215 innings pitched. He has not pitched at Boston since he plunked Coco Crisp in the second inning of the June 5 game at Fenway Park, touching off a bench-clearing fracas between the two teams. Five Rays players were suspended a total of 23 games for their part in the memorable incident that many feel helped jell Tampa Bay for its incredible pennant run. Shields went 2-2 with a 5.85 ERA in four starts against the Red Sox in 2008. Included in this body of work was a masterful two-hit shutout of the Red Sox on April 27, when he struck out seven while walking just one. Shields won on Opening Day in 2008, besting the Orioles in Baltimore by allowing just two runs on five hits in seven innings to pick up his first win of the season. Shields has a 2-4 career mark against the Red Sox, with a 5.23 ERA in eight starts; he is 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA in three career starts at Fenway, though those results are skewed from the one-inning outing last year, when he was thrown out after the incident. Over his career, Shields has been better during day games, posting a 9-7 mark with a 3.44 ERA in 25 daytime starts.

BOS: RHP Josh Beckett (12-10, 4.03 ERA in 2008)
Beckett is embarking on his ninth Major League season, bringing in an 89-62 career mark compiled during stints with the Marlins and Red Sox. His last game against the Rays came on Oct. 18, when he picked up the win in Game 6 of the ALCS by holding Tampa Bay to two runs in five innings. He went 2-1 with a 2.06 ERA in five starts against the Rays in 2008, a season in which he performed better on the road, where he posted a 2.85 ERA, as opposed to home (5.65). The veteran right-hander did not finish strong in 2008, and was unable to surpass the 200-innings mark for the first time since the 2005 season. But he is the undisputed ace of the Red Sox and knows how to rise to the occasion. Beckett has a 5-3 record with a 3.11 ERA in 10 career starts against the Rays. Historically, Beckett has found the month of April to his liking, as he's 18-9 with a 3.31 ERA in 34 career starts in the month.

Tidbits
Pat Burrell, who signed with the Rays as a free agent during the offseason, has the distinction of being just the third player since 1970 to go from a World Series champion to the team that lost in the World Series, joining Gary Thomasson, who went from the 1978 Yankees to the Dodgers in '79, and Don Gullet, who went from the 1976 Reds to the Yankees in '77. Burrell played for the Phillies, who beat the Rays in the 2008 World Series. ... Tampa Bay will be on the road for Opening Day for the fourth consecutive season. The last time the Rays opened at home was April 4, 2005, when they lost to the Blue Jays, 5-2, at Tropicana Field. ... Since the Rays' inaugural season, they have posted a 68-119 mark against the Red Sox; they are 25-68 against Boston at Fenway Park.

On the Internet
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• WDAE 620

Up next
• Wednesday: Rays (Scott Kazmir, 12-8, 3.49) at Red Sox (Jon Lester, 16-6, 3.21), 7:10 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Rays (Matt Garza, 11-9, 3.70) at Red Sox (Daisuke Matsuzaka, 18-3, 2.90), 1:35 p.m. ET

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["opening_day" ] }
{"content":["opening_day" ] }