This isn’t what the White Sox had in mind when they acquired James Shields in June.
They hoped to have traded for an innings eater, a veteran presence to bolster the back of the rotation. They didn’t expect to receive the Shields of old, the guy who anchored multiple rotations and produced nine straight seasons with at least 12 wins.
They just wanted a reliable veteran to pick up some slack.
But for the second time this season, Shields has found himself in the midst on an incredible funk. The Oakland A’s blasted three home runs off Shields on Friday night and routed the White Sox 9-0 in front of 20,011 at the U.S. Cellular Field. Shields has allowed nine homers in his past three starts and has a 17.36 ERA in four August outings. Kendall Graveman threw a two-hit shutout for the A’s.
“I need to finish strong, no doubt about it,” Shields said. “I need to finish strong. I'm not helping this team out right now. So I need to do my job and get better and move on.”
[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]
Shields has been a 50-50 proposition since the White Sox acquired him from the San Diego Padres for Erik Johnson and minor-leaguer Fernando Tatis Jr.
Half of his 14 starts have been very good.
The other half have been some of the worst of Shields’ career.
The right-hander’s night started strong as he retired the side in order in the first inning, including a pair of strikeouts.
But it didn’t take much longer to reveal Shields didn’t have much. Jake Smolinski’s second-inning smash up the middle caromed off Shields with two outs to load the bases. Max Muncy then took a close 3-2 pitch for a ball to force in a run and put Oakland ahead 1-0.
Shields avoided further damage, but only for a bit as Khris Davis blasted a two-run homer in the third. Stephen Vogt hit another long ball with two outs in the fifth inning to give the A’s a 4-0 lead. Davis doubled off Shields and Yonder Alonso crushed another homer to make it a six-run contest. Shields then walked Marcus Semien and he scored from first on Tim Anderson’s throwing error.
“So frustrating for me,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “I’m trying to get the guy to help us out because I know he can. I guess everything is going wrong. He started the game well and then it got away from him quick. He’s competing out there. He’s competing hard. He’s trying to help us out.
“But you know, he has to keep grinding and trying to figure some stuff out. It’s the only thing we can do.”
In his last four starts, Shields is 0-3 with a 17.36 ERA in 14 innings. He has allowed 33 hits, walked eight and struck out five.
Earlier this season, Shields had a 24.62 ERA in a span of four starts, including his last one with the Padres and first three with the White Sox. The 29 homers yielded by Shields, including 20 in 69 2/3 innings for the White Sox, is tied for the major-league lead with Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin.
White Sox manager Robin Ventura said the club will continue to keep Shields in the rotation.
Still owed $22 million by the White Sox over the next two seasons, Shields figures to be in the team’s plans unless they’re able to find a taker for him this offseason. But one of the reasons the White Sox acquired Shields in the first place is because pitching won’t be easy to find this offseason.
“He’s going to figure that out,” Ventura said. “I think there’s times where a team will hit him around and he has been able to fight his way back. He’s had the roughest stretch when he first got here and he seemed to calm those waters and figure it out. He has the ability to do that.
“He has to be able to get back and we know we can do that.”