Rays-Rangers Preview

The Tampa Bay Rays’ current three-game skid has cost them their

grip on an AL wild card, and having to deal with a red-hot Adrian

Beltre isn’t making things any easier.

James Shields hopes to cool off Beltre and help Tampa Bay avoid

a fourth consecutive defeat when the Rays face Yu Darvish and the

Texas Rangers on Tuesday night in Arlington.

The Rays (70-58) have dropped three straight for the first time

since a four-game skid June 25-28 after falling 6-5 in Monday’s

series opener. Their 2 1/2-game cushion is gone in the wild-card

race, where they now trail Oakland and Baltimore by one-half

game.

“That’s OK, we’ll get it back,” manager Joe Maddon told the

Rays’ official website. “This thing is going to ebb and flow the

rest of the season. There’s no question it’s going to come down to

the nubs. Our goal is still to win the division and not just get in

as a wild card.”

Beltre was the villain from Tampa Bay’s perspective Monday,

going 3 for 3 with four RBIs and falling a triple short of his

second cycle in four days. He hit a solo homer in the second

inning, a two-run double in the third and added a go-ahead RBI

single in the fifth.

The third baseman is batting .520 with six homers, a triple,

three doubles and 13 RBIs over his last six games for the AL-best

Rangers (76-52), who have won eight of 10.

“He’s locked in,” manager Ron Washington said. “We need

everything he’s giving us right now. He’s one of the guys in our

lineup that makes it work.”

Beltre, though, is 9 for 34 with 15 strikeouts lifetime versus

Shields, who has also been on fire of late.

Shields (12-7, 4.01 ERA) is 4-0 with a 2.15 ERA over his last

five starts – a stretch that began with an 11-strikeout, three-hit

shutout of Oakland on July 31. He gave up three runs and fanned

seven in 7 2-3 innings of Wednesday’s 5-3 win over Kansas City.

“I’m mixing my pitches up pretty well,” Shields said. “My

delivery has been really, really well ever since the beginning of

this month. My change up is back in action.”

The right-hander has compiled a 1.80 ERA while winning his last

four regular-season starts versus the Rangers – the most recent

April 27 – though he’s lost to Texas in each of the last two

postseasons.

The Tampa Bay lineup will get its first look at Darvish, who

returns after missing his last start as a precaution due to a tight

quad muscle.

“It feels very good,” Darvish said. “If I had to make that start

(Thursday), I was pretty sure I would have been able to do it.

Everything went well (in a bullpen session) so it was the same

physical preparation. With my delivery, I was able to do the same

things I am normally able to do.”

Darvish (12-9, 4.51) has been inconsistent since July 1, going

2-5 with a 6.23 ERA in eight starts – allowing six runs or more in

four of them and three runs or fewer in the other four.

He yielded three runs over seven innings and struck out 10 in

his last start Aug. 17, but fell 3-2 to Toronto.

The Japanese rookie right-hander is 1-2 with a 6.48 ERA over his

last four home starts after beginning his major league career 7-0

in Arlington.