Tampa Bay (26-33) at Miami (31-31)

  • Game info: 7:05 pm EDT Sat Jun 9, 2007
  • TV: FSFL
Preview | Box Score | Recap

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays have been without an ace to anchor their staff for their entire decade of existence. James Shields appears ready to fill that void.

Shields looks to continue his run of outstanding pitching for the Devil Rays as they continue a three-game interleague series against the Florida Marlins.

Tampa Bay has never finished .500 or better in its nine seasons, with a lack of effective starting pitching perhaps the biggest reason.

No Devil Rays pitcher has ever won more than 14 games in a season and only five pitchers in franchise history have recorded more than 10 wins in one year. Rolando Arrojo (1998) and Scott Kazmir (2005) are the only two Tampa Bay starters to finish a season with an ERA under four.

While it is still too early to call Shields (5-0, 3.08 ERA) an ace, his performance this season should at least give Devil Rays fans hope. The second-year right-hander has been much better than opening day starter Kazmir, and has a legitimate shot at making the All-Star team.

Shields was outstanding again Monday in a 4-2 win over Kansas City, giving up two runs and four hits in 7 1-3 innings. It was the eighth time in his last nine starts that he held the opposition to three runs or fewer.

“He’s pitched so well,” Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon said after Shields had his ninth consecutive outing of at least seven innings. “The team goes out there with a different mental edge about it.”

Shields has the Devil Rays’ only complete game this season, and exited each of his other 11 starts with the lead or the score tied.

He did not receive a decision against the Marlins on May 20 despite limiting them to one run and five hits in seven innings.

Shields will try to cool off the Marlins (31-31), who won their third straight with a wild 14-8 victory in Friday’s series opener.

Florida overcame a six-run deficit by scoring 12 unanswered runs and reached .500 for the first time since May 4.

Jeremy Hermida hit a grand slam to start the comeback, and Josh Willingham drove in three runs for the Marlins, winners of eight of 12 overall and six of seven against the Devil Rays (26-33).

“This team has an attitude all the time of never-say-die,” Hermida said. “Especially in the second, third and fourth innings, we knew we had a lot of game left.”

Tampa Bay, which had won four of five, issued 11 walks. Infielder Josh Wilson tossed one scoreless inning, becoming the second position player in team history to pitch.

“It’s unfortunate to waste that kind of an offensive night,” Maddon said. “It’s really annoying, actually.”

An ugly loss wasn’t the only negative for Maddon’s team, which lost two key players to injuries.

Catcher Dioner Navarro left the game strapped to a backboard after taking an errant pitch in the throat. Navarro was taken to Broward General, where he was being kept overnight.

“He’s fine. I can’t give you more specifics than that, just that he’s going to be fine,” Maddon said.

B.J. Upton left in the first inning with a left quadriceps strain. Upton, batting .320 with nine homers and 31 RBIs, is listed as day-to-day and will be re-evaluated Saturday.

Dontrelle Willis (7-4, 4.70) gets another chance to improve his numbers at home when he faces the Devil Rays for the second time this season. The Marlins ace has not pitched well at Dolphin Stadium, going 2-2 with a 6.08 ERA in six starts compared to 5-2 with a 3.57 ERA in seven road outings.

Willis struggled with his control in a 3-0 loss at Milwaukee on Sunday. He gave up two runs and seven hits in six innings while walking a career-high six without a strikeout.

The left-hander pitched seven strong innings in a 7-2 victory at Tampa Bay on May 19, improving to 2-1 with a 1.80 ERA in three career starts against the Rays.

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Starting Pitchers

J. Shields SD vs. D. Willis MIL
12-8 Record 10-15
3.85 ERA 5.17
184 K 146
36 BB 87
1.11 WHIP 1.60

Scoreboard

Saturday, Jun 9