You never know what you're going to get with James Shields.
"There’s no in between. It seems like it’s either good or it’s bad," White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said on Saturday. "There’s no middle ground. Early it was, he wasn’t controlling the counts. He was falling behind and having to use part of the plate.
"Now it’s just making too many mistakes. Too many mistakes with his pitches and leaving some up. This is a ballpark where balls go. So, that’s kind of it right now."
When Shields first arrived with the White Sox, he struggled mightily, allowing 21 earned runs and five homers in a combined 8.2 innings pitched in his first three starts.
He bounced back with an impressive seven-game stretch, in which he had a 2.11 ERA — good enough to draw some trade chatter near the deadline.
But as of late, Shields reverted back to the pitcher he looked like when he first arrived in Chicago. He has given up 27 earned runs on 33 hits while allowing nine homers and eight walks in his last four starts.
"I think he’s having an off period," said manager Robin Ventura. "There’s stuff there. You can see it. We’ve seen it. In Boston he had a nice run there.
"This is a tough place to pitch, especially if you’re not locating exactly where you want and guys put good swings on it. It’s a small ballpark and that’s where you can get hurt the most, especially in the summer."
As the trade deadline passed, the White Sox ultimately decided to hang on to Shields, who has two years left on his contract beginning next season.
If the White Sox are committed to keeping the right-hander in Chicago, Cooper believes Shields — who turns 35 in December — can still be effective. He just needs to find consistency.
"He’s shown us six in a row good ones so it’s in there. We’ve got to bring more out," Cooper said. "We’ve got to be able to stem the tide or minimize and find a way … I don’t know the right terminology. Like I said, it’s either good or bad.
"We’ve got to find a way to make more pitches to keep us in the ballgame game on the days he has not thrown well. Getting ahead and minimize mistakes is the way to do that."
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
Shields' early exits has forced the White Sox bullpen to carry a load Rick Hahn & Co. were looking to avoid when they acquired the right-hander.
Despite the extra innings to aid Shields, Cooper doesn't think they have overworked the bullpen.
"Listen anybody that has a bad start, that’s going to put a little bit tax on the bullpen," Cooper said. "On the games he hasn’t pitched well, yeah there’s tax there. There’s also a tax when we didn’t let (Chris) Sale pitch that day and in John Danks’ games and in (Mat) Latos’ games.
"In anybody’s game that don’t give us the job description of a White Sox pitcher, which is carrying the bulk of the work. Anytime that happens there’s more work on a bullpen."