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Maddon happy with Rays' pitchers

Maddon happy with Rays' pitchers

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In his final Grapefruit League outing, Rays right-hander James Shields went four innings, giving up four runs (two earned) on seven hits, striking out three and walking none, as the Rays fell to the Twins, 4-2, in front of a crowd of 7,968 at Hammond Stadium.

"He got the work in. I thought he was fine," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "There were some mistakes behind him, but he got the work that he needed to get in today. So I was pleased with that."

The loss was the first of the spring for Shields, who was hindered by three Rays' errors, including two by Elliot Johnson on Craig Monroe's third inning single. The Rays entered the game with baseball's best spring record, and are currently second only to Boston in the American League in number of errors committed.

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"We're tying to end our Spring Training pretty strong right now," Shields said. "I wish I could have gone longer today, but we're getting ready for the season right now. I thought I pitched pretty well today. I made a few bad pitches but this is a good-hitting ball club. They obviously had their 'A' team out there today. I made some pretty good pitches that they hit pretty well.

"It's good to see those guys before we go out and play them during the season. Once the season starts it's a little different ballgame."

Scott Munter relieved Shields, going two scoreless innings, giving up three hits and striking out one. J.P. Howell pitched two perfect innings.

"I liked Munter," Maddon said. "Munter's been pitching really well. He has the hard sinker, [which] gets a lot of ground balls, and he's becoming very interesting. And J.P. did his thing again. I'm very pleased with the pitching today. I thought we swung the bats well. We hit a lot of balls hard today that were caught, but I think the wind kind of knocked us down today. But I was OK with the at-bats. The biggest thing was the errors, the two on one play. We gave them some runs right there. But overall, not a bad game for us in spite of the three errors. I thought the pitchers were fine. The at-bats were good. It was OK."

Shields, who made two Opening Day starts in the Minors, is looking forward to his first big league Opening Day start on Monday against the Orioles in Baltimore.

"I'm pretty excited," said Shields, who started on Opening Day in 2001 with Class A Hudson Valley, and in 2004 with Double-A Montgomery.

"I tried to stay as calm as I could out there today, not trying to overexert myself energy-wise. But I'm pretty excited to start the season. Once the first pitch is gone, I think I'll be good to go. But it's exciting to be the Opening Day starter, and I'm going to try to get the first win of the season."

Shields, who was 12-8 with a 3.85 ERA in 31 starts for the Rays last season, quipped that being the Opening Day starter might not always be a harbinger of good things.

"Well, my second year in pro ball, my first [full] season, 2001, I know that I was the Opening Day starter in Double-A and three weeks later I was in A ball," Shields recalls. So, being the Opening Day starter sometimes doesn't mean a whole lot.

"But it's one of those things where you go out there and try to win the first game, and the first series of the season, and try to set the tone. So that's what I'm going to try to do."

Maureen Mullen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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