BOSTON — James Shields took a step toward turning his season around, though there’s still plenty of room to improve.
The 34-year-old right-hander, who entered the day with a 21.81 ERA in three starts since being acquired from the San Diego Padres, allowed three runs over five innings in the White Sox 8-7 extra-innings loss to the Boston Red Sox Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park.
While it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster like his previous starts against the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, Shields only lasted five innings and issued more walks (four) than he had strikeouts (three). Still, he was able to keep the White Sox in the game — and left with a lead — which represents a step in the right direction.
“Obviously my last three outings weren’t very good, so it’s definitely a positive,” Shields said. “I’ve been around the game a while, I’ve got a lot more in the tank. Body feels great, so we’ll move forward.”
Shields’ abbreviated outing, though, forced the White Sox to burn relievers Matt Albers (who hit a batter and gave up two hits) and Dan Jennings (who threw a scoreless inning) early. And with those two guys used, and reliable right-handers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam on the disabled list, manager Robin Ventura turned to rookie Chris Beck in the seventh.
Beck avoided a meltdown but allowed a run. While Nate Jones ultimately gave up the game-tying run in the eighth, having to cover a dozen outs proved to be a difficult task.
“We were getting a little short today,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We didn’t have (Zach) Duke out there to be able to come in. We were trying to patch it together. These guys have been used a lot, so we knew we couldn’t necessarily go four outs with Jonesy or (David) Robertson. We were a little thin.”
Shields was generally better at getting ahead in the count, and held Boston scoreless through his first four innings. But after striking out Christian Vasquez and getting Marco Hernandez to ground out to begin the fifth, the Red Sox lineup turned over to face Shields for the third time. Mookie Betts’ single was followed by a Dustin Pedroia RBI double, though Xander Bogaerts popped out to end the inning.
Shields issued walks to David Ortiz — he thought his 1-2 slow curveball was a strike, though — and Ryan LaMarre before being pulled with no outs in the sixth.
“He was playing more in the strike zone early on in the at-bat than in previous starts,” Avila said. “Throughout the innings that he pitched there were times where he kinda got out of himself a little bit and rushed a little bit but he was able to make the adjustment much quicker than he did in his previous outings. A good start for him, pitched well, used everything. Was able to go both sides of the plate with a good mix of his pitches. Those are the types of starts that I’ve seen quite a bit of him make and would expect to make.”
Anything better than a figurative fireworks show would’ve been an improvement, and while Thursday wasn’t vintage Shields, it did represent a step in the right direction.
“Overall it was just me trying to relax and not trying to do too much for my new team,” Shields said. “I felt okay today. But there’s always room for improvement and I’m going to try to get better next time.”