Shields Finds “Another Way” to Victory
Since the beginning of the 2011 Spring
Training, Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon has been stressing the
mantra of finding “Another Way” to win games this season. Most of
the Rays squad has taken the skipper’s words to heart and have been
re-tooling parts of their game to help the team transform a few
opportunistic situations into victories.
Rays starter James Shields has taken a part of his game to the next level, and that might be his personal
stamp of “Another Way” for his pitching in 2011. The art of the
pick-off is a bit foreign to most right-handed pitchers.
Because of their angle towards the
plate, and the extra motion needed to throw across their body to
First Base, the pick-off play is a lost and sometimes forgotten
special play within the game. But in 2011, it seems that Shields has
found a way to again stoke a level of fear in base runners when he is
atop the hill.
If you look at the Major League
Baseball leader board among pick-offs, it is usually dominated by
mostly left-handers who have a distinctive advantage throwing-wise to
nab stray base runners. But in 2011, Shields and another Rays rightie
Wade Davis had combined for 4 pick-offs already this season. Then Shields took his game into hyper-drive today.
That was before today’s afternoon
performance against the Cleveland Indians that saw Shields erase 2
separate base runners, one who was in scoring position. Somehow, some
way Shields has amped up his usual throw to first by deceptively
getting the drop on runners this season.
Maybe it is his use of his upper body
to throw towards the bases, or possibly his footwork has improved so
severely it boggles base runners into a trance. Not sure if that is
the real reason, but it is great to see another direction and another
tactic providing positive results for the Rays pitching staff.
Seriously here. After Shields picked
off Indians OF Michael Brantley off First Base in the bottom of the
third to end the inning, it marks his 4th pick-off of the
young season. Suddenly Shields had a chance to catch current pick-off
leader Oakland LHP Brett Anderson who coming into today lead the
majors with 5 pick-offs.
Then 3 innings later in the bottom of
the 6th inning with Indian Shortstop Orlando Cabrera in
scoring position with power option Cleveland LF Shelly Duncan at the
plate, Cabrera was caught leaning towards Third Base and was picked
off by Shields easily.
I know at the moment Shields did not
know he had tied the MLB lead, but the grin on his face was ample
notice that not only did the play erase a sly base runner, but it
also ended the inning and negated another scoring threat by the
Suddenly not only was Shields change-up
something for hitters to worry about, now they also had to worry
about him turning and burning a throw towards the base with a chance
to eliminate any and all base runners in sight. That can be a very
valuable weapon. It can put a notion of taking a shorter lead,
possibly getting into a runner’s head when Shields is on the hill.
In the end, this change in Shields game
plan could keep runners at bay for a while as they sort out why he is
becoming so deadly. That could also play into runners not trying to
stretch out their leads on the bases for a bit, and might keep a few
runs from scoring. Some might call it intimidation, some might call
it slight of hand, I call it just what it is….”Another Way” to
win ballgames. And Shields is using his new weapon to his advantage
to secure a few more “W’s”.