Braves to face Rays’ dominant Shields

The Tampa Bay Rays’ James Shields dominated opponents during interleague play last season.

The same can’t be said for Tommy Hanson, who hasn’t experienced much recent success against AL clubs.

With a chance to become the majors’ first seven-game winner, Shields takes the hill opposite Hanson on Friday night when the Rays open a three-game set with the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves.

Shields, who enjoyed a career year in 2011 by going 16-12 with a 2.82 ERA, posted especially impressive numbers over four starts against the NL. The All-Star right-hander opened interleague play with three complete game victories before dropping to 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA following somewhat of a rocky display during a 4-3 loss to Cincinnati on June 29. When all was said and done, Shields struck out 42 and walked just four over 34 innings while opponents hit just .145 against him.

In his only career appearance against Atlanta (24-15), Shields gave up three runs over six frames during a 3-1 road loss June 17, 2010. Shields has had his way with Dan Uggla, limiting him to just three hits in 15 at-bats in their matchups.

“We’ve faced a lot of those guys before. I think I’m the only one on the staff who faced the National League East in the past,” Shields told the team’s official website. “They’re a good team. They’re a good squad. We can’t take them lightly. We have to keep playing our game.”

Though his ERA went up to 3.52, Shields improved to 6-1 this season after giving up six runs – four earned – over 6 1-3 innings of Sunday’s 9-8 win at Baltimore. Shields is surely looking forward to getting back home, where he’s gone 8-0 with a 2.48 ERA over 10 starts – all Rays wins – dating to last year.

Hanson (4-3, 3.43), meanwhile, improved to 3-1 over his last five outings after striking out a season-high nine over five innings of one-run ball during Sunday’s 7-4 victory at St. Louis.

“I felt good with everything and for the most part did a good job of locating,” he said.

Hanson, though, could find it difficult to build on last weekend’s effort given his recent struggles in interleague play. Since compiling a 0.75 ERA in winning his first four career starts against the AL, the right-hander has gone 1-2 with a 9.78 ERA over his last four.

Hanson scattered three hits over seven shutout innings of a 6-2 victory over Tampa Bay (24-15) on June 16, 2010.

Winners of nine of 13, the Braves defeated Miami 7-0 on Thursday behind Brandon Beachy’s five-hitter. Beachy struck out six and walked zero in throwing his first career shutout.

Atlanta won nine straight in interleague play June 19-July 2 before falling 5-4 to the Orioles on July 3. The Braves have outscored Tampa Bay 113-77 in taking 15 of 21 all-time meetings between the teams.

Coming off a two-game split with Boston, Tampa Bay’s four-game winning streak was snapped Thursday with a 5-3 defeat. Matt Moore dropped to 1-4 on the season while Luke Scott, Carlos Pena, Elliot Johnson and Chris Gimenez – the club’s 3-5-7-8 hitters, went a combined 0 for 15.

Since winning 13 of their first 14 games on their own field, the Rays have dropped three of four at home thanks in part to going 5 for 34 (.147) with runners in scoring position.