© 2009 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

01/29/09 2:23 PM EST

Shields maturing on and off the field

After offseason spent traveling, righty working out in Tampa area

ST. PETERSBURG -- James Shields is maturing nicely. He's always had the talent, but every year he seems to better harness what he has -- even off the field.

Take this offseason. The Rays right-hander served as the best man at his friend's wedding in Mexico and had to make a speech. Having experience at the job from a similar assignment at his brother's wedding, Shields felt a little nervous.

Shields had relied on a prop at his brother's wedding when he told his audience that because his brother was getting married, he needed everyone who had a key to his brother's house to turn in their key. That prompted a parade of people to the front returning their keys. Of course, earlier in the evening, Shields had passed out the keys.

Shields laughed at the memory: "It was pretty funny."

Down in Mexico, Shields went with a straight routine -- no props -- and came through with a solid performance.

"I even surprised myself," Shields said.

Shields' budding abilities as a public speaker will have to wait until his immense abilities as a pitcher run their course, which likely won't happen any time soon. After posting 12 wins in 2007, he tied for the team lead in '08 with a career-high 14. And once again, he added quantity to the quality of his work by leading the team in innings pitched with 215, exceeding 200 innings for the second successive season.

Part of why Shields has enjoyed the success he has is the work he puts in during the offseason. Unlike offseasons past, Shields' didn't begin his workouts until much later in 2008 thanks to the Rays' incredible postseason run.

"[I] started a month later this year," Shields said. "I hope I do that every year."

After spending time in Mexico, California and Las Vegas with his wife and daughter, the Shields family returned to the Tampa Bay area for the bulk of his preparation for the coming season.

Hot Stove

Given Shields' past when he had to deal with physical problems almost yearly en route to the Major Leagues, he always goes into this time of year feeling like he must rehab some sort of injury, which hasn't been the case since he reached the Major Leagues. Despite having pitched until almost November, he felt great physically at the end of the season.

"I think I had one more game in me," said Shields, who would have started Game 7 of the World Series if necessary, with a smile. "I think that was the reason."

Shields said that the change of venues for his offseason workouts has been "a lot different for me."

"I had my routine out there for the last five years, and to come out here and change it [has been an adjustment]," Shields said. "... We've got the facilities out here. That's the only good thing out here. You've got our training staff here every day. I'm getting the same work in."

However, he does miss training with the group he has trained with in the past.

"I've got all my boys I work out with out in Vegas," Shields said. "I'm calling them up, and I'm done with my workouts and they're just going to their workouts. I call them at 9 [a.m. ET] and they're going at 6 [a.m. PT]. I'm just kind of giving them some junk about that. But it's a little different though."

Even with a different setting, motivation has not been a problem for Shields, who shares with his teammates the feeling of having unfinished business.

"I think a lot of us felt like the season did not end the way we wanted it to," Shields said. "Obviously, we're going to look back and it was the best season this organization's ever had, hands down. But we feel we have something to prove this next year.

"By the Yankees and Red Sox signing all those guys, I think this league is going to be pretty tough. And I think we're going to have a lot of dogfights this year and a lot of battles."

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.