James Shields wants to move on from a disastrous 2016 season and show he’s still a capable major league pitcher.
Even though he described it as a little erratic, Shields’ effort on Thursday afternoon is definitely a good first step. Shields was effective into the sixth inning and the White Sox offense pounded the Detroit Tigers 11-2 in front of 10,842 at Guaranteed Rate Field. Geovany Soto blasted two home runs and drove in four runs and Matt Davidson tripled and hit a three-run homer in support of Shields, who won for only the second time in his last 13 starts and finished with a 6-19 record last season.
“It’s always good to have a clean slate you know, beginning of the season,” Shields said. “But we have a long way to go. Got off on the right foot today. A little more walks than I wanted to. But overall we have a lot of work to do over a long season and we’re going to continue to grind.”
The conditions didn’t appear to favor Shields, who yielded 40 homers in 2016, including 31 in 114 1/3 innings with the White Sox. Winds gusted at 23 mph from right to left at first pitch, which could have created a hardship for Shields.
Also, were it last year, the five walks he allowed in 5 1/3 innings may have sank Shields.
But none of it mattered.
“He was great today,” Soto said. “He was mixing speeds, controlling both sides of the plate. …
“It was the best I’ve seen him.
“He commanded both sides of the plate, his offspeed was there. Great performance by Shields today.”
While Shields got tagged for a solo homer in the second inning when he left a 91-mph fastball up to Tyler Collins, he otherwise avoided damage. He struck out the side in the first inning to strand runners on the corners, getting Justin Upton on an offspeed pitch to end the frame.
Shields struck out two more batters in the third inning, including Victor Martinez. All five of Shields’ strikeouts came on swinging third strikes.
He had 12 swings and misses in all, according to brooksbaseball.net. Shields also induced a lot of soft contact.
He lamented the free passes. But Shields also limited Detroit to two hits in 104-pitch effort.
“We were very happy with his outing,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I know he had a few walks today, and he was talking about that after he came out of the ballgame. He was trying to attack the strike zone early. He was mixing his pitches well, secondary pitches. His offspeed he was taking a little more off, which was very effective for him. We were hoping he would be able to get through that last inning of work. It wasn’t to be, but he did a really nice job and kept us in the ballgame the whole game.”
The White Sox offense took advantage of the effort and a poor outing by Tigers starter Matthew Boyd.
Davidson started it with a triple in the second inning, his first at-bat of the season. He scored when Boyd’s throw home on a safety squeeze by Jacob May got away. The White Sox added another run on an RBI single by Tim Anderson.
Soto gave Shields plenty of room to work with in the third inning when lined a three-run shot down the left-field line for a 5-1 lead.
The White Sox poured it on in the fourth inning. Avisail Garcia, who had two hits, singled in a run off reliever Anibal Sanchez. Davidson then launched one an estimated 428 feet for a three-run homer and a 9-1 lead. The blast was Davidson’s first homer since Sept. 22, 2013 and the fourth of his career.
Jose Abreu later singled in a run and Soto also homered to center, his first two-homer game since 2011.
It all added up to an easy victory for Shields, who combined for a 5.85 ERA in 33 starts for the White Sox and San Diego Padres. Shields was acquired in a May trade in hopes that he’d provide the White Sox with a reliable innings-eater behind Chris Sale and Jose Quintana in the rotation. The White Sox agreed to take on $22 million of the $44 million left on Shields’ contract.
The trade got off to a horrible start as Shields allowed 21 earned runs and five homers in his first three starts over 8 2/3 innings. While Shields found consistency over a seven-start stretch from June 23-July 26, he couldn’t maintain it. He went 4-12 with a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts for the White Sox.
But all spring long Shields said he felt like he would bounce back. After a March 21 start, Shields said he wants to rediscover his aggressive self and become the consistent pitcher he has been throughout his career. Shields felt like he got away from his aggressiveness last season because he had trouble keeping the ball down in the zone.
“Sometimes you have your really good stuff and sometimes you have your OK stuff,” Shields said. “Today I didn’t have my best stuff, but I went out there and grinded it out. It helps when the team scores early, it gives you confidence to go out there and make some pitches.”