ST. PETERSBURG - By now the comparisons to 2010 have been made, and it is hard to argue against them. Tampa Bay Rays pitcher James Shields looks an awful lot like he did two years ago when he struggled through the worst season of his career.
Shields argued the point after he allowed another team another round of double-digit hits Sunday, this time to the Boston Red Sox, who left Tropicana Field with a 7-3 victory.
He allowed 11 hits, making it four straight starts in which he's allowed at least 10. He lost for the eighth time in his past 13 games after beginning the season 5-0.
"Of course it's frustrating. I'm not doing my job right now," he said. "Bottom line is I got to get better."
But 2010? Shields said it's not a good comparison.
"I didn't pitch good at all, and I didn't feel good, to be honest with you, in 2010. I feel like my mechanics are pretty decent right now," Shields said. "I'm getting a lot of ground balls, and they're finding holes. I got to keep grinding it out, grinding it out and keep going."
Shields walked two batters in the first inning, but escaped the jam by allowing just one run. His offense, sparked by Will Rhymes at leadoff, opened the game against Red Sox starter Josh Beckett with three straight hits for only the second time this season and sent Shields out to start the second inning with a 3-1 lead.
"Once you get a 3-1 lead like that early on in the game, Shields vs. Beckett, I kinda liked that, but then it went away quickly," Rays manager Joe Maddon said.
The Red Sox tied it at 3-3 in the second inning when Mike Aviles hit a two-run homer to center field with one out, and it was basically all Red Sox after that as the Rays lost for the 11th time in their last 17 games.
Shields maintained he is healthy.
"I feel good," he said. "Everything is great. I'm just getting behind in the count and not making a pitch when I needed to."
Maddon said Shields' command is off a bit. Maddon also said he would like to see more fastballs from Shields, who has gone away from that pitch in favor of his cutter. His fastball and curveball were keys to setting up his changeup last season when he won 16 games, threw a major league-high 11 complete games with a major league-best four shutouts and had a 2.82 ERA.
"I like his conventional fastball a lot," Maddon said. "I think that's been a big part of his success in the past."
According to fangraphs.com, Shields has thrown his fastball only 17.1 percent of the time this season, down from 27.9 percent in 2011. He's thrown his change-up a major league-high 31.8 percent of the time.
Shields threw a fastball on 14 of his 29-first inning pitches. Of his next 84 pitches, only 17 were fastballs. Also, he only threw his first pitch for a strike to 10 of the 27 batters he faced.
"Just not making my pitches, that's all," Shields said. "I just got to do a better job of making my pitches, not walking guys and getting guys in scoring position and try to minimize my damage."
The Rays could use a dose of 2011 Shields as they try to reclaim a spot in the postseason. Sunday's loss prevented them from leaping the Orioles and moving into the second wild-card spot.
Maddon said everything he's seen from Shields suggests that is possible. Shields' velocity is fine and the ball looks good coming out of his hand. Maddon said Shields might be pressing a tad as he tries to force himself to return to his 2011 form and could benefit from getting quicker outs, which would reduce his pitch count.
"He is a big part of what we do," Maddon said. "Last year at this time, all the platitudes were just jumping all over the place. He was getting complete games (by throwing) like 110, 115 pitches max. … I think definitely if he's done it in the past he can do it again, it's just a matter of whomever the athlete is just to really recognize the adjustments they want to make and then go ahead and make them."
Shields said he doesn't have to make adjustments.
"Keep grinding man, keep grinding. Stick with my routine," he said. "My body is feeling great. Just keep grinding it out. I'm sure it'll get batter, so I'm not worried about it."
Tampa Bay Rays
Struggles continue for Shields, Rays in 7-3 loss to Red Sox