But Shields isn't about to change his routine or dramatically overhaul his process heading into Friday night's series opener against the Mariners at Tropicana Field.
Instead, he spent time watching video with pitching coach Jim Hickey and found "little, minor adjustments" he can make to get things back on track. The only thing he did differently in his between-starts bullpen session, he said, is throw about 20 more pitches because he felt good enough to do it.
"If I stick with my routine, I think it's eventually going to catch up with me," Shields said. "Normally when you're going through a stretch like I'm going through right now, you see something very dramatic. But we didn't really see anything dramatic. It's a matter of just executing my pitches and going deep into the game and getting a win."
After an outstanding 2011 season in which he finished third in the American League Cy Young voting, Shields has seen his ERA climb to 4.44 and his WHIP jump to 1.48. Opponents have hit .290 off Shields this season, including .344 on balls in play, a year after he held batters to a .215 average, including .258 on balls in play. Some of that, presumably, has to do with the Rays' inconsistent defense this season and just bad luck.
"I'm moving on and just trying to stay positive and keep grinding it out," Shields said. "My job right now is to go out there and get some wins, and that's what I'm going to try to do."
Facing Shields will be Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, making his third Major League start. He was a standout starter in Japan but worked as a long reliever for Seattle before moving into the rotation just before the All-Star break. Although Iwakuma struggled in his first two starts, manager Eric Wedge said he has fully made the transition into the rotation.
"I think he's built up to be a starter in regard to pitch count and where he's at, and hopefully he can take advantage of that and be efficient enough to get us late in the ballgame," Wedge said. "In regard to his season, the way he's progressed has been pretty good. He's one of our five starters now, and hopefully he's going to come out there strong and give us a chance to win the ballgame. Because if he has something on the end of his pitches with his fastball, sinker and breaking stuff, he'll do that. Hopefully he's going to feel strong."
Mariners: No long man in revamped 'pen
With Iwakuma in the rotation and Charlie Furbush placed on the disabled list Wednesday, the bullpen has undergone something of a makeover. Wedge rested Brandon League and Lucas Luetge on Wednesday, so Steve Delabar, Oliver Perez and Josh Kinney -- all of whom were in Triple-A Tacoma a month ago -- finished the game.
On top of that, without Iwakuma and Furbush, Seattle is left with few options to pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen.
"We don't have a true long guy, but we've got guys able to give us a couple innings down there," Wedge said. "Unless you just really get blown up, we should be OK. Now, that would have an effect on you the next day. That's where the danger lies."
Rookie starter Erasmo Ramirez, on the 15-day DL with a strained elbow, threw another bullpen session Thursday. He is scheduled to throw a simulated game Saturday at Tropicana Field before the Mariners decide if he's ready for a Minor League rehab assignment.
Rays: In search of a winning streak
After starting the season with a three-game series sweep of the Yankees and putting together two six-game winning streaks by May 4, the Rays haven't won three straight since June 7-10, when they took four in a row. To put up a fight against New York in the American League East or make a strong claim to a Wild Card spot, Tampa Bay will need to put some distance between itself and the competition.
"We're not putting together multiple wins in a row, and I think that's what we need to start doing," Shields said. "I think our starting staff needs to do a better job of going deep, especially myself. ... Our bullpen's done an amazing job of picking us up. Obviously [Wednesday] night, they struggled a little bit, but one out of every couple months isn't too bad. We just need to pick them up a little bit."
Jeff Keppinger went 2-for-3 with a double and a walk in Thursday afternoon's 6-0 win over the Indians. Among Rays hitters with more than 100 at-bats, Keppinger leads the team in average (.316) and on-base percentage (.382) with the third-highest OPS (.817). Manager Joe Maddon said David Price and Fernando Rodney have definitely been the most consistent players on the team this season, but Keppinger leads the hitters in that regard.
"Among the position players, I think Kepp has really had a steady path," Maddon said.
The first 10,000 fans at Tropicana Field on Friday wil receive a "Big Game" James Shields T-shirt that he designed. He wore the "retro" shirt during his pre-start interview Thursday.
Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez will travel with the club to St. Petersburg to continue working his way back from a concussion suffered on June 29. Gutierrez did not go through any pregame work on the field Thursday.