The Florida Marlins have ridden an offensive resurgence as they close on the .500 mark. They’ll have their work cut out for them Sunday as they face the best pitcher the Tampa Bay Devil Rays have this season in a bid for a three-game sweep at Tropicana Field.
The Marlins (20-23) have outscored opponents 30-19 in winning four of their last five games after being shut out twice and scoring just seven runs during a four-game losing streak. Florida’s offense again led the way Saturday as Hanley Ramirez, Jeremy Hermida and Aaron Boone all homered in a 7-2 victory.
“That’s always nice … when you’re scoring runs, hitting the ball out of the ballpark,” said Boone, who has homered in both games of this series. “That makes it fun for everyone.”
The Marlins are batting .277 in their last five games with nine homers and 19 extra-base hits.
Florida, which is 33-19 all-time against its intrastate rivals, is trying for its third sweep at Tropicana Field and first since June 24-26, 2005.
But James Shields (3-0, 3.13 ERA) has been Tampa Bay’s most consistent pitcher thus far, lasting at least 6 1-3 innings in each of his eight starts. The right-hander is making his third attempt to become the first starter in Devil Rays’ history to win his first four decisions in a season after limiting opponents to three runs and nine hits over 17 innings in his previous two outings.
“Right now he’s pitching pretty much at the top of his game and maybe at the top of Major League Baseball,” manager Joe Maddon told the Devil Rays’ official Web site. “I’d have to say in the American League he’s one of the top pitchers right now. … I love his composure and his mound presence.”
Shields was reached for three runs and six hits in eight innings Tuesday against Texas before Tampa posted a 4-3, 10-inning victory. He went 2-1 with a 5.63 ERA in four interleague starts as a rookie in 2006.
His worst outing among the four came against the Marlins, who tagged him for seven runs and 10 hits in five innings of an 8-5 loss on June 26.
The Devil Rays (18-24), trying to avoid their first home sweep of the season, have lost back-to-back games following a season-high four-game winning streak and have given up 30 runs in their last four games.
The Marlins send Sergio Mitre to the mound in their quest for the series sweep. Mitre (1-2, 2.18) will try to win consecutive starts for the first time since June 8-14, 2005, and has pitched well in his last two outings, posting a 1.15 ERA.
The right-hander limited the Pittsburgh Pirates to three runs and eight hits in Florida’s 9-3 victory on Tuesday. Mitre is 1-2 with a 6.23 ERA in three interleague starts, which all came in 2005. He will be making his first appearance versus Tampa.
“It hyperextended a little bit,” said Paul, who underwent X-rays as a precautionary measure. “I was good to go. They’re just making sure. It was a weird play, that’s all.”