White Sox

White Sox needing James Shields to get back to mid-May form

White Sox needing James Shields to get back to mid-May form

BOSTON — From May 7 through May 25, James Shields had a 2.81 ERA with a healthy 30 strikeouts, eight walks and three home runs allowed over 25 2/3 innings. 

That four-start stretch was preceded by another group of four starts in which Shields had a 2.42 ERA (April 15-May 2). That number four is important, of course, because in Shields’ last four starts — three of which with the White Sox — he has a 24.62 ERA, with as many walks (13) as his combined strikeout (six) and home run (seven) totals. 

The glass-half-full point being that Shields, for as disastrous as his brief tenure with the White Sox has been, has pitched relatively well as recently as a few weeks ago. 

“It’s trying to harness that and be able to get back to that,” manager Robin Ventura said. “It’s there. You’ve seen what the last ones have been but for him to be able to put that out of his mind and get back in to what makes him effective, it’s going to come down to location. Being able to locate, being able to feel comfortable on the mound and throw strikes and jump ahead.”

There were warning signs, like Shields’ 4.45 and 4.41 FIPs with the San Diego Padres in 2015 and 2016 (that advanced metric, scaled to ERA, is often a good starting point for predicting future success). But not even the most pessimistic projection of Shields would’ve predicted a staggering ERA north of 20. 

The White Sox didn’t acquire Shields expecting he’d be the top-of-the-rotation force he was with the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals. The thought was, with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana commanding the front end, Shields could help shore up an inconsistent back of the rotation. The 34-year-old right-hander has thrown at least 200 innings every year for 2007-2015, with this innings-eating ability supposed to relieve some of the pressure on a taxed bullpen. 

Instead, Shields’ short, ineffective starts have put even more strain on the White Sox bullpen. General manager Rick Hahn alluded to things needing to change quickly for Shields, because if they don’t, the club would have to look at other ways to avoid taxing a relief corps that’s thrown 92 innings over the last 30 days (the 10th-highest total in baseball). 

Hahn also pointed out the White Sox don’t believe Shields is experiencing an “unprecedented evaporation of talent,” over his last few starts. But a club that’s tenuously contending for a playoff spot — which also entered Wednesday one game under .500 — might not be able to afford giving Shields a long leash, even if he was pitching well a month ago. 

“For a guy who’s had the success he’s had, he got knocked around a little bit, and that’s something that will mess with you or with somebody who doesn’t have the mental strength or desire to come back and fix it,” Ventura said. “He’s a proud guy so this is all new to him. But he has the ability to do that.”

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

0522-james-shields.jpg
USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Ozzie Guillen offers his solution to PED use in baseball

Ozzie Guillen offers his solution to PED use in baseball

Ozzie Guillen is not one to shy away from having a strong opinion about something.

On NBC Sports Chicago’s Baseball Night in Chicago show on Tuesday, Guillen gave his view on how Major League Baseball can stop the usage of performance-enhancing drugs.

“Major League Baseball, you want to cut this thing down?” Guillen said on the show. “You cancel the contract to this kid. Then you’re going to see that. You get caught one time, you’re banned from baseball, then you’re going to stop with that. Because if you’re going to make $200 million and lose $11 million? I’m going to do it.”

Guillen is going off the idea that a player who used PEDs to get a big contract only loses part of it when he eventually gets caught and suspended. Canceling the rest of a contract takes away some of the financial incentive to use PEDs.

“If you get caught when you are young and you try to survive in the game, well, I don’t agree with them, but you can survive in this game that way,” Guillen said. “You know how hard it is right now. How Major League Baseball is on the top of this thing, day in and day out. They’re not going to play around with this thing.”

Marlon Byrd, who was twice suspended for PED use, was also on the show and talked about his PED suspensions.