ST. PETERSBURG -- Pitcher James Shields said Sunday that he and the other starters hate being taken out, but the bullpen the Rays have makes exiting a little easier.
Tampa Bay's relievers have been nearly untouchable recently, compiling a 0.38 ERA over the last 15 games, helping the Rays win nine of them.
During that time, opponents have just a .131 batting average and last scored on the bullpen in a 15-inning thriller against Oakland.
No reliever has been better than closer Fernando Rodney, who leads the Majors with 32 saves and has failed to convert just once this season. His streak of 20 consecutive innings without allowing a run is tied for the longest in the Majors by a reliever and just one short of the club record of 21, which was set by Joe Borowski in 2005.
Rodney faces tough competition to surpass that mark as lefty J.P. Howell also has a scoreless inning streak of 20 after pitching two frames Saturday, throwing just 18 pitches and striking out four.
"He's starting to get that movement on the fastball that he had," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "You can see the breaking ball, it's much better depth and they're getting worse swings on it."
The success is a welcome sight for Howell, who struggled from mid-May through mid-June. In a span of 12 appearances that began May 12, he allowed 11 runs in eight combined innings of work. Since then, he hasn't allowed a run with 18 punchouts.
Maddon said an increase in fastball velocity, which has more consistently been at 86 and 87 mph, have made the difference.
"You can just see the hitters not on him like they had been last year," Maddon said. "They're not getting the same quality swing they had last year, which means that the deception is back, the movement is better."