James Shields wasn't hit hard Thursday night by the Detroit Tigers' potent offense. He was just hit often. Real often.
Shields, making the 200th start of his career, will remember the evening more for the amount of hits he allowed in the Rays' 5-2 loss to the Tigers in front of 20,532 fans at Tropicana Field.
Shields allowed a career-high 14 hits, which tied the franchise record set by Tanyon Sturtze (2002) and tied by Geremi Gonzalez (2004) and Edwin Jackson (2007).
"Everything I was throwing they were finding a hole," Shields said. "It wasn't a very good day."
Add an offense that continues to struggle and you get the Rays' fourth straight loss and their 11th loss in 16 games since June 12, which was the last time they were in first place.
The Rays managed only six hits and lowered the team batting average to .222 in their past 10 games. They've scored 33 runs during that span.
"This might definitely be the toughest time that we've gone through this year," first baseman Carlos Peña said. "It definitely is, this stretch.
"But at the same time, the vibe is, guys, this is where we have to rise above."
Designated hitter Luke Scott returned to the lineup after missing 17 games with back spasms and batted cleanup. But his bat hardly mattered against Tigers starter Max Scherzer, who allowed four hits in six innings.
Throw in Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde and the four Tigers pitchers combined to hold the top four hitters in the Rays' lineup to 0-for-14 with two walks and five strikeouts.
"We just have to become a more consistent offensive club," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I think some of the gaffes on defense might be tied to that, just the attitude perspective, where you're swinging. Normally, we feed off our defense. We need to start feeding off our offense just a little bit, and I think that would pick up the spirits."
The Rays' offensive struggles of late made the Tigers' 3-0 lead after four innings insurmountable.
The Tigers reached Shields for five hits in the third inning — four singles and a double — that produced two runs. The Tigers would have scored more if not for a nifty unassisted double play by second baseman Jeff Keppinger. With runners on first and second and no one out, Keppinger leapt and caught a line drive by Miguel Cabrera then ran to second, where he doubled up Austin Jackson.
But Shields allowed three two-out hits — singles by Prince Fielder and Delmon Young and an RBI double by Alex Avila for a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers scored another run in the fourth with three singles.
Shields allowed 10 hits through four innings but trailed by only three runs because of Keppinger's double play in the third and a strong throw by Desmond Jennings, who threw out Jackson trying to score from second on a single by Cabrera.
That Shields was able to save the bullpen by pitching 72/3 innings was of little consolation.
"You can compete all you want, go deep in the game all you want," he said. "The bottom line is we lost the game, and I got to do a better job."
The Rays cut the deficit to 3-1 in the fifth when Brooks Conrad doubled and scored on a single by Elliot Johnson. The Rays' other run came when Keppinger walked to start the second and scored on a double by Conrad.
"I keep on saying, how we handle the adversity that we're going through at this moment is going to define us as champions or not," Peña said.
Said Maddon, "We got to start picking ourselves up a little bit."