The Devil Rays (23-31) fell to the bottom of the AL East with back-to-back losses to open the series, but rebounded with a 5-1 win on Sunday. The Royals (21-36), meanwhile, entered this series having dropped a season-high seven in a row and are in last place in the AL Central.
Tampa Bay looks to salvage a series split with Shields (4-0, 3.13 ERA). After going 6-8 with a 4.84 ERA in 21 starts as a rookie in 2006, Shields leads the Devil Rays in wins and is in the AL’s top 10 in ERA.
Despite several strong outings, the right-hander had gone four starts without a decision before Wednesday, when he pitched a seven-hitter for his first career complete game Tampa Bay’s 5-3 win over Detroit.
Shields, who retired 17 of the last 18 batters he faced, became the first Devil Rays pitcher to win his first four decisions in a season
“That’s what he’s been working on since he’s been here - his ability to not let something that happened badly affect him over the course the entire game,” manager Joe Maddon said after Shields allowed just two hits the rest of the way following a shaky first inning. “That’s a classic example of being able to regroup and have confidence in yourself.”
Shields won his only career start against the Royals by tossing six shutout innings on June 11. He allowed six hits while striking out five in the Devil Rays’ 8-2 victory.
Meche (3-4, 3.00), one of last winter’s most criticized free agent signings, looks to even his record for Kansas City. The Royals signed him to a five-year, $55 million contract in December, even though the right-hander had posted an unremarkable 4.82 ERA in his last three seasons with Seattle.
But Meche has impressed in 12 outings so far, ranking among AL leaders with nine quality starts. He rebounded from two of his worst efforts this year by holding Baltimore to one run and four hits in 7 1-3 innings on Wednesday, but was charged with the loss in the Royals’ 3-0 defeat.
“Gil was terrific,” Royals manager Buddy Bell told the team’s official site. “But, you know, it’s hard to win when you don’t score any runs. He was outstanding, pretty much what we needed.”
Meche has lost three straight starts after going 2-0 with a 1.04 ERA to lead the Royals to wins in each of his four previous outings. He hasn’t lost four straight starts in a single season since July 2003, but he has struggled in six career starts against Tampa Bay, going 1-3 with a 5.52 ERA.
Meche, though, won’t have to deal with one of Tampa Bay’s hottest hitters. Third baseman Akinori Iwamura, who is batting .370 this season with eight hits in 17 at-bats since coming off the DL for an oblique strain, is expected to miss four to five games with a left eye injury.