MINNEAPOLIS -- There are many factors to consider when discussing why the Rays have put together a five-game winning streak and are 7-2 in the month of August. One of those reasons is the improved defense.
The Rays have gone 10 consecutive games without making an error, tying a franchise record. The improved play in the field is clear to see for manager Joe Maddon.
"I think I've seen the routine plays being made, we are playing a better game of catch, period," Maddon said.
Maddon said the Rays were not as sharp as he would've liked during the first half of the season, so a conscience effort went into improving the defense on the field.
"I thought we had a lot of throwing errors in the first half and I think we've cut down dramatically on that. Throwing begins with the feet. I know [coach Tom Foley] spent a lot of time with the infielders regarding their feet, so that may have had an impact. It just can't be that easy, but maybe it was," Maddon said.
Tampa Bay is errorless in 20 of its past 23 games. The seven errors the Rays have made since the All-Star break are tied for the fewest in Major League Baseball. Prior to the break, Tampa Bay committed 71 errors in 86 games, second most in baseball.
Rodney, Howell having historic seasons in 'pen
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Rays have two relief pitchers that have put scoreless streaks together this season that no other Tampa relievers have accomplished in franchise history.
First it was Fernando Rodney, whose 22-scoreless-innings streak came to an end in Wednesday's victory over Toronto. Not to be outdone, J.P. Howell has put together his own 22-scorless-innings streak together, which is still intact.
With Tampa's long list of successful relievers over the years, the Rays continue to show that the front office and coaching staff know how to put together a bullpen.
"Most of the credit goes to our front office and the scouting department who are finding these people," manager Joe Maddon said. "I take no credit for that."
Rodney has been nothing less than lights-out all season long. He leads the Majors with 35 saves this season, converting 35 of 36 opportunities, and has a miniscule ERA of 0.84.
"Fernando has been ridiculous," Maddon said. "He's got great stuff. He's outstanding, what can you say about him. You talk about this wonderful bullpen we have, he's the guy that has permitted it to work in the manner it is by nailing down the ninth as well as he has."
Howell has a chance to surpass Rodney's scoreless streak in his next outing and can tie or move past the 23-inning scoreless streak James Shields compiled in 2011 for the overall club record.
"J.P. will go under the radar a little bit, but we've talked about how much better he's been," Maddon said. "It's pretty impressive."
Howell has an ERA of 2.85 this season in 41 games. He has not allowed a run since a June 13 outing against the New York Mets.
Shields finding form after sluggish start
MINNEAPOLIS -- After a rocky start to his season, James Shields, Sunday's starting pitcher, seems to have finally gotten in a groove after two excellent performances in his last two starts.
Shields began the season by compiling an ERA of 6.15 in his first seven starts, allowing opposing batters to hit .323 against him. In his last two starts, he has allowed just one run and five hits over 17 innings.
It has been evident that Shields has had a good fastball in his last two starts, throwing it 50 percent of the time, something he has made more of an emphasis, but he said it's important to focus more on the pitches that are working that particular day, not just one pitch.
"I've had a good fastball, my location has been good," Shields said. "I would say it's a conscious effort as far as my game plan goes, but once the game starts, my pitches dictate what I will throw."
With his last two starts, Shields joined Rolando Arrojo (1998) as the only Rays pitcher to have two consecutive starts of at least eight innings and yielding three hits or fewer.
Shields said he is looking to finish the season strong in helping his team compete for a playoff spot.
"I feel really good right now. I am getting a lot of ground balls, a lot of outs. The team is playing really well right now and the offense is starting to come around," he said.
Scott plays first rehab game with Charlotte
MINNEAPOLIS -- Designated hitter Luke Scott finally got some at-bats in a rehab assignment with Class A Charlotte on Saturday.
Scott didn't fare too well, as he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts against the Jupiter Hammerheads. He is scheduled to participate in Sunday's doubleheader when Charlotte faces Jupiter.
Scott has been on the disabled list since July 21 with a mild strain of his right external oblique muscle. Starting pitcher Jeff Niemann will make a start for Charlotte on Tuesday against Bradenton.
Joe Kieser is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.