Pitcher James Shields received quite the welcome from Tampa Bay fans in his first return to Tropicana Field since being traded by the Rays to the Kansas City Royals in the offseason. A video montage was played on the scoreboard followed by a "Thanks for the memories" message that drew a standing ovation from the fans. Shields, a former All-Star, was shown live on the scoreboard as he tipped his cap to the crowd and tapped his chest in appreciation. It's likely the most fans will see of the former Rays ace during the four-game homestand.
Shields, 31, does not have a scheduled start during the series, but he said he will treat it as a homecoming vacation, having brought his family with him along for the trip. "I tried to finagle the schedule a little bit to come pitch against these guys," Shields joked. Shields did get to face off against his former team Thursday, in a matter of speaking, though. On Thursday afternoon as he put on a batting helmet and stepped into the batter's box to face former teammate and close friend David Price during a simulated game. Price has been on the disabled list since May 16 with a strained triceps. Over seven seasons, Shields became a veteran leader in the Tampa Bay clubhouse in addition to being a stalwart on the mound. He was an All-Star two years ago, when he went 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA and finished third in the American League Cy Young Award voting, and was 15-10 with a 3.52 ERA in 33 starts last season, when he pitched 227 2/3 innings -- his sixth consecutive year of at least 200 innings pitched. He started against Tampa Bay in Kansas City on April 30, going seven innings and allowing two runs in an 8-2 victory. Overall, Shields has a 2.79 ERA and with 90 strikeouts but at 2-6 has been victimized at times by a lack of offensive support. Shields, pitcher Wade Davis and infielder Elliot Johnson were traded Dec. 9 to Kansas City for phenom outfielder prospect Wil Myers, pitchers Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, and third baseman Patrick Leonard. Shields was due to $10.5 million this season, deemed too much for the Rays' payroll. All three former Rays have contributed for Kansas City, including Johnson, the catalyst of an eight-run sixth inning in Thursday's 10-1 victory over Tampa Bay. Davis (3-5, 5.37 ERA) is the scheduled starter for Kansas City for Sunday afternoon's game at the Trop. It will be the first time the Rays have faced Davis this year.
Former Rays pitcher and current Kansas City starter James Shields signs autographs for a group of Sarasota little leaguers prior to the Rays' game against the Royals on Thursday in St. Petersburg. CHRIS URSO/STAFF