GLENDALE, Ariz. – James Shields changed his delivery, and he hopes to be a part of a White Sox turnaround.
“My whole career I’ve been part of rebuilds. In Tampa we were rebuilding every year. When I got traded to Kansas City they were just at the end of the rebuild,” Shields said Thursday.
The Rays and Royals each made it to the World Series when Shields was at the top of their rotations. The 36-year-old right-hander, who became a side-armer late last season, isn’t lowering his expectations.
“In 2007, we were last in the league,” he said of the Rays. “In 2008, we were in the World Series against the Phillies. So I don’t really look at that stuff too much. I don’t really believe in ‘It’s too early to win.’ These guys are very talented young men. If they put it together, something special is going to happen.”
Even general manager Rick Hahn is cautious in his optimism for the Sox, who were 67-95 a year ago. The Sox haven’t made it to the postseason since 2008, when they were eliminated by Shields and the Rays in the division series. That was the first of four trips to the playoffs for Shields, including
two World Series.
Shields had made at least 33 starts for nine consecutive seasons before going on the disabled list for the first time in his big league career last season because of a strained lat muscle in his pitching arm. He returned but was 5-7 with a 5.23 ERA in 21 starts.
Since he was acquired from San Diego in May 2016, Shields has a 5.99 ERA in 2311/3 innings with the Sox. Entering the final season of a $75 million, four-year contract, he wants to prove his worth.
“I only can control what I can control,” he said. “I’m probably tougher on myself than any fan is on me. Hopefully, they respect that.”
“I have higher expectations. I’m pretty grateful for what I’ve done and accomplished. I like the challenge. I said that when I was traded to K.C. I love facing the challenge.”
Shields dropped his arm angle to sidearm midway through a game at Boston late last season, then had a 3.94 ERA in five September starts.
“The last two years I’ve been kind of messing around with it,” he said. “I got some really good reviews and reactions to it from the hitters. I feel good. I want to make every one of my starts and let the process take care of itself.”
Manager Rick Renteria is counting on Shields.
“You saw him really turn it up late in the season,” Renteria said. “We’re looking at him to provide leadership, eat up a few more innings and try to take advantage of everything he has. He’s pitching with a lot of heart and knowledge. He’s able to go out and show guys how to get through situations.”
Shields has made seven Opening Day starts in his career:” four with Tampa Bay, two with Kansas City and one with San Diego. Renteria said Shields would be a “natural fit.”
“I don’t think there will be any surprises with who we’re going with,” Renteria said Thursday. “Right now we’re trying to get these guys ready for the season.”
Shields, of course, is ready if asked to start March 29 in Kansas City.
“It’s always special no matter how many you’ve had,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes.”