The Tampa Bay Rays begin the final homestand before the All-Star break tonight against the Royals hoping to ride the wave that carried them to one of the most successful three-city road trips in team history.
The Rays won nine of 11 against the Orioles, Yankees and Tigers. With the victory Sunday night, the Rays tied the franchise record for wins on a trip set in 2010 when they went 9-1 through Baltimore, Boston and Chicago.
Manager Joe Maddon said the way for the team to make the climb up the standings and enter the playoff chase is to win series.
“We go home and get two really good teams again, Kansas City and Toronto, and once again the objective is to win series. Very simple,” Maddon said. “Of course you’d like to do better than that, but if you win both series, I’ll take it going into the break.”
Said RHP Jake Odorizzi, tonight’s starter: “It would be big for us to finish off this first half strong. The way we’re going now, if we can keep this going, we’ll be in good position when the second half starts.”
Maddon said after Sunday’s game that RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right elbow surgery) will make his season debut Tuesday when he starts against the Royals.
Hellickson, who had the surgery in late January, made his last rehab start Thursday at Triple-A Durham. His 30-day minor-league rehab assignment expired Sunday.
“He’s ready to go,” Maddon said.
Maddon said LHP Erik Bedard will move to the bullpen and that LHP Jean Beliveau and INF Vince Belnome will head to Durham.
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RHP James Shields, who spent seven years in Tampa Bay before being traded to the Royals with RHP Wade Davis for four prospects that included RF Wil Myers and Odorizzi in December 2012, makes his first start at the Trop since Oct. 2, 2012.
“He should get a nice ovation from the crowd for all the work he’s done for us in the past, and he’s helped us become the Rays,” Maddon said. “He helped big time in the transformation, not only what he did on the field, but he was a great leader for the pitching staff.”
Shields is the franchise leader in wins (87), starts (217), strikeouts (1,250) and innings (1,454 2⁄3).
Melanie Ramos, wife of LHP Cesar Ramos, delivered a baby girl, Addison Lynn, on Saturday. Ramos is set to rejoin the team today. ... The Rays’ charter flight was expected to return to Tampa at 5 a.m. today. Because of that, the players don’t have to report until 5 p.m. for tonight’s game. ... Tampa native Aric Almirola, who won Sunday’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, threw out a ceremonial first pitch before a game on the Rays’ last homestand. He tweeted a picture of himself holding the trophy while wearing a Rays cap.