ARLINGTON -- The Rays will look to take a commanding two-game advantage when they turn to right-hander James Shields for Game 2 of the American League Division Series on Saturday night at Rangers Ballpark.
Shields, who was the Rays' top performer on their pitching staff this season, is no stranger to the Rangers' lineup. He has faced Texas twice in the past month and also got the call in Game 2 of last year's ALDS.
The 29-year-old will have the daunting task of following up rookie Matt Moore's impressive outing in Game 1 and trying to limit a Rangers offense that finished third in the Major Leagues this year with 855 runs.
"They have one of the better hitting teams in the big leagues, but you have to be aggressive," Shields told reporters on Friday afternoon. "You have to attack those hitters. You can't make too many mistakes.
2011: 1 GS, 1-0, 0.00 ERA Career: 4 GS, 2-2, 3.72 ERA
2011: 16 GS, 8-2, 4.69 ERA Career: 32 GS, 16-9, 5.24 ERA
Against this opponent
2011: 2 GS, 2-0, 0.53 ERA Career: 8 GS, 5-2, 3.05 ERA
2011: 2 GS, 1-0, 5.84 ERA Career: 5 GS, 3-1, 6.51 ERA
Loves to face: Josh Hamilton, 2-for-16, 6 K Hates to face: Elvis Andrus, 7-for-12, 2 2B, 2 3B
Loves to face: Johnny Damon, 0-for-7, 4 K Hates to face: Evan Longoria, 6-for-13, 1 HR, 4 2B
Why he'll win: 11 complete games is most since 1999
Why he'll win: 5-0 in his past six starts with 2.06 ERA
Pitcher beware: In 2010 playoffs, Texas scored 4 runs in 4 1/3 IP vs. Shields
Pitcher beware: Unable to get through 4 IP in 4 starts in 2011.
Bottom line: Go the distance
Bottom line: Keep it going
Shields, who will be matched up against left-hander Derek Holland in Game 2, is coming off a career season in which he went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA in 33 starts. His 11 complete games led the Major Leagues and were the most since Randy Johnson had 12 in 1999.
The California native also became the first pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1992 to toss at least 11 complete games and record four shutouts in the same season.
Shields has now surpassed 200 innings in five consecutive seasons, and his ability to consistently pitch late into ballgames is something he has taken pride in throughout his big league career.
The six-year veteran said the key to his success was being able to stay strong throughout the season, which also helped him capture that elusive complete game.
"Staying healthy, that's about it," Shields said of his comeback campaign. "You know, I really haven't thought about it too much, to be honest with you. Obviously I wanted a complete game. I hadn't had a complete game since 2008 before this season, and surprisingly I got 11 of them.
"But just staying consistent. I am very proud of what I have done this year as far as staying consistent. I think that's what I am all about and what I am capable of doing."
Shields also enters this year's postseason as the Rays' most experienced starter in October. He is 2-3 with a 3.68 ERA in five postseason starts, and he suffered a key loss to Texas in last year's Game 2.
He allowed four runs on four hits over 4 1/3 innings, which was the shortest outing of his career that didn't involve an ejection. But he'll be looking to turn the page this time around, and Shields was able to do just that in the regular season.
Shields went 2-0 with a sparking 0.53 ERA in two starts against Texas in 2011, and it was a well-above-average changeup that caused the Rangers fits in the batter's box.
"Normally you won't see many pitchers who double, triple and quadruple up, throwing the same pitch over and over and over again," said Texas outfielder Josh Hamilton, who is 2-for-18 with a homer and three RBIs in his career against Shields. "But if you've got a changeup like that, it makes your fastball so much better if you can locate it."
Shields' performance this year was a stark difference compared to a disappointing 2010 campaign, when the veteran righty managed to go just 13-15 while posting a 5.18 ERA.
That was lowered to 2.82 this season, which marked the third largest drop from one year to the next since the divisional era began in 1969.
Manager Joe Maddon said there are a couple of key things that helped Shields accomplish the dramatic turnaround.
"His command of his fastball has gotten even better," Maddon said. "He is throwing it where he wants. He is picking better spots or counts to throw that pitch on.
"And I still think the proliferation of the curveball, the fact that he is using it more often matters a lot. It has taken some pressure off his changeup, and that matters, too."
Shields getting the start on Saturday will also allow him to come back and pitch Game 5 if necessary. Shields would embrace that challenge, but he's hoping Tampa Bay is able to take control of the series early to stop that potential elimination game from taking place.
"I hope we don't get to Game 5," Shields said. "I definitely wouldn't mind that. But, yeah, it's exciting. I think I am ready to go. I feel good. My body feels great right now.
"So right now, I am focusing on tomorrow and focusing on what I need to do to get a win tomorrow, and I'll worry about Game 5 later on."