Blue Jays-Rays Preview

The Associated Press

Although Tampa Bay's James Shields is tied for the major league lead in victories, he hasn't been particularly sharp lately.

A start against the Toronto Blue Jays could help him regain his composure.

Shields looks to become baseball's first seven-game winner as he takes the mound for the Rays in Wednesday's series finale with the Blue Jays, one of his favorite opponents.

After posting a 2.73 ERA in his first four starts, Shields (6-2, 3.77 ERA) has yielded at least four runs in four of his last five outings. Against Atlanta on Friday, the right-hander gave up four runs, seven hits and three walks with eight strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings of a 5-3 loss.

He was done after throwing 115 pitches, and his high pitch counts have led to several early exits. Shields, who led the majors with 11 complete games last season, has averaged 111.8 pitches in his last five outings, but has thrown 6 1-3 innings or less in each.

Two of his complete games last year came against Toronto, as he posted a 0.71 ERA in winning his three starts in the series. He is 6-2 with a 3.15 ERA in 10 outings versus the Blue Jays at Tropicana Field.

The Rays (26-18) dropped Monday's series opener with Toronto 6-2 before bouncing back with an 8-5 victory the next night. They're 5-2 against the Blue Jays (24-20) this season and have won 17 of 25 against them since the start of last season.

Tampa Bay pounded out 14 hits Tuesday with Carlos Pena, Luke Scott and B.J. Upton all homering. Pena, who was moved up from the middle of the lineup to the leadoff spot, snapped an 0 for 18 slide with a three-run homer and finished with two hits.

"You can't really quantify how much of a difference it makes, but Joe (Maddon) is really smart by shifting things like that,'' Pena said. "It changes the energy and good things like this happen, not only individually but as a team. We put up some runs on the board and felt more comfortable.''

Tampa Bay's offense had been struggling, coming into Tuesday's game having totaled 13 runs in losing four of five. Replicating Tuesday's output could be difficult, however, against scheduled starter Ricky Romero (5-1, 3.64).

Romero, 4-2 record with a 2.38 ERA in six starts against the Rays since the start of last season, allowed three runs, eight hits and three walks in six innings of a 7-3 win over Tampa Bay on April 17. Since 2011, Ben Zobrist is batting .125 in 16 at-bats against Romero, Matt Joyce is hitting .143 in 14 at-bats and Sean Rodriguez is batting .077 in 12.

Against the New York Mets on Friday, Romero permitted one run, three hits and four walks in six innings of a 14-5 win. Base on balls have been an ongoing problem for the left-hander, who has issued 14 free passes over 17 1-3 innings in his last three outings.

"I think at times I start aiming the ball, but ... I'll be better at it," he told the Blue Jays' official website.

Fixing his control, however, might not be so easy against a patient Rays team that ranks second in the majors with 163 walks.

The Blue Jays, winners of five of seven, got another big game Tuesday from Jose Bautista, who finished with three hits and two RBIs. The slugger is batting .340 with six home runs and 13 RBIs in the last 12 games after opening the season with a .177 average, five homers and 15 RBIs. He is 2 for 12 with a pair of homers and four walks against Shields since 2010.

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