Rays Break Long String By Letting James Shields - 30! - Start For Them

St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher James Shields (33) reacts as he walks back to the dugout after giving up 2 runs in the second inning against the New York Yankeesat Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement

Shields, who started Wednesday against the Tigers, ranks as the grizzled old man among the Rays' starters, having turned 30 last winter. But how long can the club keep this pitching Methuselah around, anyway?

So, last season I was fascinated upon learning that it had been a long, long time since a pitcher in his 30s had started a game for the Tampa Bay Rays.

But James Shields was 29 last season! And would turn 30 in December! Would the Rays keep the streak alive and trade Shields for a hitter‽ Or a couple of hot prospects

No, they would not. Not yet, anyway. Shields turned 30, and Shields started on Opening Day for the Rays.

Which elicited this:

Which piqued my interest, so I conducted a little search and was just sure I'd caught DRaysBay in a little error. After all, in 2007 Jae Weong Seo was 30 years old and started 10 games for the Rays.

Ah, but no. Not quite. That tweet says over 30 years old, which you might think means in his 30s but actually means at least 30 + 1 day. And so Jae Weong Seo doesn't qualify. Just barely doesn't qualify.

Seo made his 10th and final start for the Rays on May 24, 2007 -- his 30th birthday. The good news was that he got the win, which must have been a nice birthday present. The bad news was that he gave up seven runs in five innings, and got bumped from the rotation. The worse news was that after a two-inning, two-run relief outing five days later, Seo got bumped from the roster and never pitched again in the majors. He did pitch well for the Rays' triple-A affiliate in Durham for the rest of the season. For what that's worth.

So, yes: Shields is indeed the oldest pitcher to start for the Rays since Mark Hendrickson, nearly six years ago. He was 32 that season, so Shields has a ways to go to catch him.

Which he might do ... but probably won't. If Shields starts a game for the Rays in 2014, he'll pass Hendrickson and become the Rays' oldest starter since 36-year-old Hideo Nomo started 19 games for the club in 2005. But if that's going to happen, the Rays will have to exercise their $12.5-million option for that season -- and before that, their $9-million option for 2013.

Which they might do ... but probably won't. Unless it's merely to lock him up before trading him. The Rays do seem to be finally running out of hot pitching prospects, but Shields might eventually seem a luxury the club just can't afford. Especially if they fall out of serious contention either this summer or next.

Which they probably won't do ... and so now I'm thinking Shields might actually still be starting for the Rays when he's 32. Which seems sort of a shame. Then again, they already blew our fun when they let him pitch on Opening Day.

***


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