Shields unable to repel Braves in opener

Shields unable to repel Braves in opener

Shields unable to repel Braves in opener
ST. PETERSBURG -- Looking at the Braves on Friday night gave the Rays the uneasy sensation of looking in the mirror.

Much like the Rays, the Braves arrive at the ballpark with pitching, pitching, and more pitching. Atlanta's pitching proved to be better than Tampa Bay's on Friday night at Tropicana Field, as the Rays kicked off their Interleague schedule with a 5-3 loss to the visitors with 19,693 watching.

"We're very similar ball clubs," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.

Two of baseball's tougher right-handers, James Shields and Tommy Hanson, started for the Rays and the Braves, and the results were predictable: a lot of frustration by the hitters.

Almost two years had passed since Shields made his first and only start against the Braves, when he took a 3-1 loss in Atlanta. The venue changed, but even though Shields struck out eight, the result was the same.

The Braves handed Shields his second loss of the season after minting four runs on seven hits and three walks during the Rays righty's six-inning stint.

Shields fell behind, 2-0, when the Braves scored runs in the first and second innings. But the Rays managed to tie the game with runs in the second and third, as Shields eased into a nice rhythm. That rhythm got disrupted in the fifth, when he retired the first two batters before walking Martin Prado. Shields then threw wild to first on a pickoff attempt to allow Prado to move to second. Freddie Freeman then doubled home Prado. Shields proceeded to walk Dan Uggla before Brian McCann singled home Freeman to put the Braves up, 4-2.

"We take everything we can get and we work hard, no matter how many outs there are," Prado said. "Getting runs with two outs just comes from us not giving in."

Maddon called Prado's walk the key moment of the game.

"Fifth inning, two outs, nobody on, like 77-78 pitches, and that ran into two runs right there," Maddon said. "That was the key at-bat of the whole night."

Added Shields: "I felt like I was making some good pitches all the way up to the fifth inning. Two-out walk is unacceptable. It's a terrible job by me. ... Changed the whole game, that was the game right there. I've got to do a better job as a pitcher to bear down out there and get that out. ... I'm definitely going to put that loss on me tonight."

While the Braves did manage to get Shields, he earned their respect.

"I was really impressed with Shields," Chipper Jones said. "That was the first time I had faced him. We kept putting pressure on him, and we got just enough against him."

J.P. Howell took over for Shields in the seventh and surrendered Prado's third homer of the year, a shot to left that expanded the Braves' lead to 5-2.

"I'm glad I got that home run, because Tampa [Bay] always bounces back in a tight game -- and that home run gave us a little bit of breathing room," Prado said.

Meanwhile, Hanson held the Braves to two runs on six hits in seven innings to claim his fifth win of the season.

Hanson "mixed up his pitches, doesn't throw as hard as he used to, but he definitely has a feel for his offspeed pitches and he pitched well -- a little bit like [Rangers right-hander] Colby Lewis," Maddon said. "I saw a little bit of Colby Lewis out there tonight."

After Hanson left, the Braves put their stellar bullpen on display. Much like the annoying neighbor's shiny new sports car, the Braves' bullpen came complete with all the bells and whistles.

Jonny Venters pitched the eighth and allowed an unearned run before Craig Kimbrel retired the Rays in order in the ninth to pick up his 12th save of the season.

"You try and get the lead," Maddon said. "... You don't want to get to Kimbrel. So if you get a couple of guys on and at least tie it right there, then you're going to avoid their thick part of the bullpen. So you have to take chances earlier versus them because of what they have at the end."

Interleague Play allows teams to get a look at some of the best from the other leagues. The Braves and Rays each entered Friday night's game with identical 24-15 records -- and the team from Atlanta made an impression on Shields.

"They're a scrappy team over there," Shields said. "They have good hitters, one through nine. They're pitching is pretty good. Hanson pitched a good game tonight. Over on that side, you look at them and you definitely know why they are on top of their division."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.