A first: Shields set for third straight opener

A first: Shields set for third straight opener

ST. PETERSBURG -- Tropicana Field last hosted an Opening Day in 2005, and boy, have times changed, as Tampa Bay prepares to open the season at home on Tuesday night at 7:10 ET against Baltimore.

In 2005, the Rays were the Devil Rays, and expectations were of a different breed back then. Happily for Tampa Bay fans, the team's fortunes have indeed changed for the better -- to the point that when the club is introduced prior to Tuesday's regular-season opener, it will be the best team on paper in franchise history.

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James Shields will make the start for the Rays, becoming the first pitcher in team history to make three consecutive Opening Day starts. In 2008, he beat the Orioles at Camden Yards on Opening Day, and he lost to the Red Sox at Fenway Park to begin the '09 season.

The 28-year-old right-hander is the old man of a young Rays staff and serves as the leader at the top of the rotation. Shields has built a reputation as a pitcher who will do whatever is necessary to pitch his team into the seventh or eighth inning, evidenced by his three consecutive seasons with at least 215 innings pitched. He is a master at using his fastball command to set up one of the best changeups in baseball.

Tampa Bay Rays
Projected Opening Day lineup
1 SS Jason Bartlett
2 LF Carl Crawford
3 RF Ben Zobrist
4 3B Evan Longoria
5 1B Carlos Pena
6 CF B.J. Upton
7 DH Pat Burrell
8 2B Sean Rodriguez
9 C Dioner Navarro
Projected rotation
1 RHP James Shields
2 RHP Matt Garza
3 RHP Jeff Niemann
4 LHP David Price
5 RHP Wade Davis
Projected bullpen
CL RHP Rafael Soriano
SU RHP Dan Wheeler
SU RHP Grant Balfour
SU LHP Randy Choate
MI RHP Lance Cormier
MI RHP Andy Sonnanstine
MI RHP Joaquin Benoit
Full 25-man roster | Depth chart
Throughout Shields' first four Major League seasons, he has fared better at home, where he has a 26-14 record and a 3.38 ERA (which includes one start in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., at the Ballpark at Disney). Over that same period, he has compiled a 17-22 mark with a 4.76 ERA in 56 career road starts. Baltimore has been one of his favorite marks, as he enters the season with a 6-2 record and a 2.92 ERA in 15 career starts against the Orioles.

While Shields has enjoyed success against the O's, he will be facing a revamped squad that has several hitters who have done well against him in the past such as, Ty Wiggington (.667 batting average), Adam Jones (.667) and Luke Scott (.333). Other potent hitters wearing Baltimore uniforms include Matt Wieters, Brian Roberts, Miguel Tejada, Garrett Atkins, Felix Pie and Nick Markakis, meaning Shields can ill afford to make any mistakes against this lineup with few holes.

Veteran Kevin Millwood will oppose Shields. The Orioles acquired the 35-year-old right-hander during the offseason to head their young staff. Millwood is 2-2 with a 6.16 ERA in five career starts against Tampa Bay, including a 6.63 ERA in the three starts he's made at Tropicana Field.

Millwood tossed seven innings of one-run baseball on Opening Day for the Rangers last season, and he will look to continue that streak with his new club. He went at least seven frames in all five of his April starts and in his first two starts in May. Millwood went 13-10 with a 3.67 ERA in 31 starts in 2009.

Millwood will face a young but seasoned Rays lineup that includes the likes of Carl Crawford, B.J. Upton, Jason Bartlett, Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria.

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