Rain muddies plans for Rays pitchers' work

By Joe Smith, Times Staff Writer
Published March 7, 2008

CLEARWATER - For the second time in three days, rain clouded the Rays' pitching plans.

With a storm in the fifth inning making for a quick 6-4 Rays win over the Phillies, the pitching staff has missed out on a combined eight innings this week Tuesday's game with the Twins was also called in the fifth.

One key arm that wasn't impacted was RHP James Shields, who - like the day's weather - experienced some highs and lows. Shields threw three innings against the Phillies' potent lineup that boasted the last two NL MVPs - Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard.

Shields said he felt better than his first spring outing, but scattered six hits and gave up two earned runs, while stranding two runners at third. The 26-year-old right-hander didn't walk anyone, but he left a few pitches up in the zone. One mistake cost Shields his runs, via a two-run homer by C Chris Coste in the second.

"I think, for me, it was a very positive (performance)," Shields said. "One bad pitch, and that's it. Even some of the hits I gave up I thought were really good pitches. This lineup is one of the best in the major leagues - you're gonna give up those hits. As long as you minimize the damage, you're fine."

As for the Rays pitching lineup, it's unclear if Mother Nature will impact whether top pick LHP David Price and LHP Brian Anderson will still make their debuts Saturday against the Yankees. Then there's top prospects LHP Jake McGee and RHP Wade Davis, who were scheduled to throw Thursday but could get bumped until this weekend.

To make up for the lost time, the Rays and Phillies will play an extra three or four innings today after their scheduled nine-inning game. No extra charge for fans.

PERCIVAL IMPRESSES: Closer Troy Percival, pitching what he said was his first spring training game in three years, made quick work of the Phillies in the fourth. The 38-year-old right-hander got his first out on one pitch, a popout to third, then struck out Wes Helms. He retired Coste on a pop to shallow right. Though Percival said that "after 700-plus appearances, I don't get too excited for a spring game," he was pleased with how he felt, physically.

Said Percival, "My health is as good as it's been in years."

OPPOSITES ATTRACT: When 2B Akinori Iwamura smacked RHP Adam Eaton's second pitch over the fence in leftfield, it set the tone for the Rays attacking the opposite field. 1B Carlos Pena homered to left-center. Even RF Jonny Gomes went the other way with a first-inning double to right-center.

"That's one of our big things - we really like to work gap to gap," manager Joe Maddon said. "(Hitting coach Steve Henderson) preaches that on a daily basis. When you get guys doing that, it makes it much more difficult to pitch to them."

OUT: RHP Chris Mason missed the game to tend to a family emergency in North Carolina. The Rays said he may return by today.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.