Daily Process: Rays Waste Strong Start By Shields | The Process Report

Daily Process: Rays Waste Strong Start By Shields

Despite being the “loser” in tonight’s contest, James Shields kicked of 2011 with a fantastic start. In a game that saw the opposition’s starter throw six innings of no-hit ball, Shields was arguably the better pitcher in the game. The much maligned right-hander tossed 7.1 innings allowing four hits and two walks while striking out seven. Shields took the loss and had two earned runs tacked on his line, but both runs scored on the three-run home run allowed by Jake McGee. Those are the results of Shields’ first start, but what about the process.

At times last season, Shields became too dependent on his fastball or cutter. This was frustrating because we all know James Shields has a fantastic changeup. On this night, the changeup was on full display. Shields threw 102 pitches total with 67 of them being strikes. Of the 102 pitches more than one-third were changeups. Not only did Shields throw changeups in bunches, but with great effectiveness. The Orioles whiffed on 12 of the 35 off-speed pitches; a whopping 34%.

Facing a right-handed heavy lineup, Shields held the platoon advantage for most of the evening. That said, the power potential of the Orioles’ lineup presented problem for the pitcher who was on the wrong side of 34 long balls in 2010. After the game, Shields talked about a change in delivery that will hopefully help in keeping the ball in the park this year. He was able to do that tonight with good control and command of his fastball as well as a changeup that could not be touched. Things did not end in his favor tonight, but if Shields can repeat his performance, that will change.

As mentioned above, all three runs of Baltimore’s runs came on one swing. With two on in the top of the eighth inning, Shields was lifted for Jake McGee. As a former starter, McGee is well-versed in facing hitters on both sides of the plate. By bringing in McGee, the Rays moved the switch-hitting Brian Roberts to the right side. From there, they would have McGee face lefty Nick Markakis. Looking at his career numbers, Roberts has shown much more power from the left side (.165 ISO) than the right (.114 ISO), so the likelihood of three-run blast seemed minimal. On the other hand, when you groove a 92-mph fastball down the middle, things like that happen.

The Rays’ offense was held in check for a second straight night. The decision to start Kelly Shoppach versus a right-handed starter seemed like a worthwhile adventure as the catcher reached base twice in four plate appearances. Even when presented with the opportunity to pitch hit for Shoppach late in the game, Joe Maddon’s thought process in leaving him in versus Jeremy Accardo and Kevin Gregg was sound, considering both pitchers have shown reverse split tendencies.

In addition to Shoppach, Joe Maddon was forced to make some pinch-hitting decisions late in the game. Due to the unfortunate injury of Evan Longoria, the Rays’ skipper had to call upon Sean Rodriguez to take over at the hot corner. When it was time for Rodriguez to face the right-handed Koji Uehera in the eighth inning, Maddon elected to go with the left-handed Sam Fuld. According to our series preview, this was the correct move despite the outcome. Fuld would strike out on a pitch that appeared to be a bit outside.

Earlier in the same inning, Maddon chose the switch-hitting Elliot Johnson to face left-handed Mike Gonzalez over Reid Brignac. Johnson, batting right-handed, coaxed a walk against the Orioles’ lefty. Looking back at our preview, it appeared that leaving Brignac to face Gonzalez would give the Rays the advantage as Gonzalez is another reverse-platoon split guy; however, looking at the batted-ball data, Gonzalez’s flyball percentage over the past three seasons is more than 44%, presenting an unfavorable matchup for Brignac’s swing plane.

As a fan, losing two games to a team that appears to be inferior on paper is frustrating. Getting quality starting pitching in both contests from your starter is even more infuriating. In both games, Brian Roberts got the hit that the Rays’ hitters simply couldn’t. Losing on a fantastic game-saving catch in game two of the season when you were six inches from walking off is a horrific result. On the other hand, the season is far from over and the opportunity for a victory is about 12 hours away.

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