Rays-Athletics Preview

The Associated Press

Stuck in a rut the last two weeks, the Tampa Bay Rays may have received just the boost they've been looking for.

The Rays try to build on an encouraging victory and move five games over .500 for the first time in a month in Wednesday's finale with the Oakland Athletics.

It seemed like Tampa Bay (54-50) would be in for a long night Tuesday facing Tommy Milone. The Rays had combined for 11 runs in their previous five games and Milone came in with a major league-best 0.91 home ERA.

It was Tampa Bay's James Shields, who had been the subject of trade rumors, that silenced the opposition, however. He tossed a three-hitter, and the Rays reached Milone for five runs in six innings in an 8-0 win.

"That was as clean a game as we've played in a long time," manager Joe Maddon said.

B.J. Upton drove in a pair of runs and Desmond Jennings scored twice for Tampa Bay, which pulled within 2 1/2 of Oakland (56-47) for the AL's second wild-card spot and moved four games over .500 for the fourth time since July 20. The Rays haven't been five over the break-even mark since July 3.

Tampa Bay scored more than six runs for only the second time in 18 games since the All-Star break, and seeing how the offense fared against Milone, it could be poised for another solid showing versus Jarrod Parker (7-4, 3.38 ERA).

Parker gave up a season high-tying six runs and eight hits while striking out eight in five innings in Friday's 14-9 win over Baltimore, but didn't get the decision. The rookie right-hander, who has never faced the Rays, has a 6.46 ERA in his last four starts after sporting a 1.01 ERA in his previous four.

Despite some of his recent struggles, the A's have still won five of his last six outings.

The Rays haven't enjoyed as much success with scheduled starter Alex Cobb (4-8, 4.93 ERA), losing eight of his last 10.

Oakland set a franchise record for winning percentage in July at 19-5, but ended the month dropping two of three. It combined for five runs in those games after averaging 9.4 runs in winning four of five.

Yoenis Cespedes was held without a hit for just the second time in 18 games Tuesday, but manager Bob Melvin didn't read too much into it.

"When someone is pitching that well it's tough to analyze the offense," he said.

The offense will try to rebound against Cobb, who is 1-5 with a 6.25 ERA in his last six starts.

Against the Los Angeles Angels on Friday, the right-hander gave up three runs and eight hits while walking none in seven innings of a 3-1 loss. He was making his first start since leaving his outing against Seattle on July 21 after two innings because of a bruised right leg.

"Overall I felt good,'' he said. "I've been struggling the last couple of games with my fastball command, and I felt that was there (Friday). I was able to get ahead most of the game, and when you're in the driver's seat, it makes pitching a lot easier.''

Cobb wasn't as effective in his lone outing against Oakland last August, yielding five runs, eight hits and four walks in 4 1-3 innings of an 8-0 loss.

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