White Sox

White Sox see solutions for James Shields, but have to come quickly

White Sox see solutions for James Shields, but have to come quickly

BOSTON — The White Sox believe James Shields’ issues can be fixed, but general manager Rick Hahn also acknowledged a sense of urgency for the veteran starter with a 21.81 ERA since being acquired earlier this month.

Shields’ first three starts with the White Sox have been a disaster, with the right-hander allowing 22 runs (21 earned) in just 8 2/3 innings. Opposing batters are hitting .480 against him with a Bondsian 1.430 OPS, and he has as many strikeouts (five) as home runs. 

But the White Sox aren’t writing off Shields as a lost cause because of three or four poor starts out of the 332 he’s made in his career.

“We believe the issues are fixable,” Hahn said. “We believe they’re more mechanics based than they are the unprecedented evaporation of talent in a premier starter. We believe in James, this coaching staff to solve the issues we’ve seen in the near future. It needs to get solved and it needs to get solved quickly, but we believe this is fixable.”

Shields’ trio of short, ineffective outings has put plenty of pressure on a White Sox bullpen that was already struggling before he was acquired from the San Diego Padres June 4 for right-hander Erik Johnson and prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. The White Sox bullpen went from a 1.69 ERA in April to a 4.72 mark in May, and while it’s been slightly better in June (4.26 ERA), as a unit it has baseball’s highest walk rate (5.89 BB/9) this month. 

One of the main reasons the White Sox acquired Shields in the first place wast to stabilize the back of the starting rotation with a pitcher who threw over 200 innings every year from 2007-2015, which in theory would take pressure off the bullpen. But White Sox relievers have needed to log 17 1/3 innings in Shields’ three starts, which accounts for 28 percent of total innings the bullpen has thrown in June. 

“It’s been very taxing on the rest of the pen and something that what we previously had as a problem (is) making it worse,” Hahn said. 

The White Sox acquired Shields after what was, according to game score, the fourth-worst start of his career. His velocity was in a slight decline this year, though it’s more in line with his 2007-2009 averages, a span during which he was an effective front-line starter for the Tampa Bay Rays. 

In the 10 starts before Shields’ disastrous run began, he had a 3.06 ERA with 23 walks, 56 strikeouts and seven home runs allowed over 64 2/3 innings. That’s where Hahn’s “unprecedented evaporation of talent” line is based — less than a month ago, Shields turned in a quality start (6 IP, 2 ER, 1 BB, 6 K) against a San Francisco Giants team that’s having plenty of success this season. 

That’s not to say there weren’t red flags. For example, opponents hit .300 off Shields’ fastball and .467 off his cutter in May.

“There were specific risks in acquiring James,” Hahn said, “but even the most dire forecast would not have predicted the performance we’ve seen the last few weeks.”

The White Sox are sticking with Shields for now, with the right-hander on track to start in Thursday’s series finale against the Boston Red Sox. Eventually, the White Sox have to find a way to take some of the pressure off its bullpen.

Ideally, that would mean Shields turning things around. But Hahn intimated that may not be the only way. 

“We have to address this fairly quickly and get it ironed out as quickly as possible or start looking at other ways to protect the other guys out there,” Hahn said. 

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.

Avisail Garcia's extended time on DL adding new wrinkle to discussion over his place in White Sox long-term future

Avisail Garcia's extended time on DL adding new wrinkle to discussion over his place in White Sox long-term future

After a career year in 2017 and his first All-Star appearance, maybe Avisail Garcia has done enough to keep himself in the White Sox long-term plans.

But there was plenty of mystery over whether Garcia, who finally broke out after four mostly middling seasons on the South Side, could do it again this season. That question doesn’t have an answer right now, even nearly two months into the 2018 campaign, as Garcia begins his fifth week on the disabled list. His hamstring strain is serious enough that the White Sox announced over the weekend that he likely won’t be back in action until late June.

“No one likes to be injured, especially position players (who are used to) playing every day,” Garcia said Tuesday. “I don’t like to watch the game. I mean, I like it, but I like it when I’m playing. So it is what it is. I’m just watching, learning more because we’re learning every single day.

“It felt like it was going to be two weeks, but it’s taking longer. No one likes that, you know? No people like injuries. It is what it is, and I won’t try to take it too hard, just work hard and put everything together to come back to the field.”

This season figured to be an important one for Garcia, who is under team control through the 2019 season, slated to hit the free-agent market ahead of the 2020 campaign, the year many are looking at as the one where the White Sox ongoing rebuilding process will yield to contention. Will Garcia be around for that contention?

His 2018 production was supposed to go a long way toward answering that question. Perhaps a strong season could’ve earned him a new contract and locked him into place as the team’s future right fielder. Perhaps a fast start could’ve made him a potential midseason trade candidate and fetched a prospect or two that would’ve helped advance the rebuild.

Instead, Garcia started slow, as he’ll readily admit. His numbers aren’t at all good through his first 18 games of the season. He owns a .233/.250/.315 slash line, nowhere close to the .330/.380/.506 line he posted last year, when he was statistically one of the American League’s best hitters.

“Slow start, slow start,” he said. “I was feeling better a couple games before I got the injury. I was seeing the ball better, but baseball is like that. Sometimes you start good, sometimes you start slow, so it is what it is. We’ve gotta make adjustments as a team and try to get better every single day.

“But you know, that happens, I’ve just got to come back now and make adjustments and help my team win.”

A starting spot in the White Sox outfield of the future is anything but assured for any player these days. In addition to Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert owning some of the highest prospect rankings in the game, guys like Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford and Luis Alexander Basabe have put up some impressive minor league numbers so far this season.

With all those youngsters doing what they’re doing, is there a place for Garcia? Or even if he were to produce well over the next two seasons, would the White Sox want to spend money to bring back a veteran when they have so many high-ceiling, low-cost players waiting in the wings?

It’s hard to answer those questions right now. Not only is it still early enough for Garcia’s fortune at the plate to change dramatically between now and the offseason, but his injury status throws a new wrinkle in the mix. Maybe it ends up making the White Sox decision easier than it would have been had Garcia’s performance been the lone factor here.

But for Garcia, 2018 remains about showing that he can replicate what he did a year ago. If he can’t — for whatever reason — maybe the keys to the outfield of the future get completely placed in the hands of those current minor leaguers. Until he returns from this injury, though, it's all a waiting game.