James Shields embraces White Sox rebuild as he tries to rebound

James Shields embraces White Sox rebuild as he tries to rebound

GLENDALE, Ariz. — James Shields wants to move on from last year's nightmare season and he's excited to do so for the rebuilding White Sox.

During his career, Shields has pitched for several rebuilding clubs and has discovered that he likes to provide an example for his younger teammates. The veteran — who has pitched more innings than any other starter in baseball since 2007 — has no issues if the White Sox ask the same of him this season. Many of those teammates would be better served if they kept a close eye on how Shields conducted himself during a trying 2016 campaign.

Shields, who was traded to the White Sox in June, finished with 19 losses, 40 home runs allowed and a 5.85 ERA. He went 4-12 with a 6.77 ERA in 114 1/3 innings for the White Sox.

"I wish it could have been better," Shields said. "There's no doubt about it. I'm a competitor and I don't like to lose and I don't like to get hit around like that. Shocking factor? Not really. Sometimes those things happen, but unfortunately it happened too often. But this season I'm feeling good. I've got a lot of confidence right now in my ability and what I did this offseason and I'm going to carry it on."

Shields was acquired from the San Diego Padres on June 4. Not only was he brought in to boost a sagging White Sox rotation, there was hope he could be one of the final pieces of the puzzle to help them reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.

But fresh off a public lambasting by the Padres' Ron Fowler — one of two shots the chairman took at him during the season — Shields struggled. He allowed 21 runs in 8 2/3 innings in his first three starts with the White Sox.

Pitching coach Don Cooper thinks all of those factors resulted in Shields getting away from the pitcher who has led all of baseball with 2,169 2/3 innings since 2007. Cooper also thinks Shields still has the stuff to rebound in 2017.

"He was traded midseason, trade deadline, after getting hammered by the owner out there," Cooper said. "It couldn't have been a great situation. He comes to a new team, with us, trying to impress, trying to really want to jump in there and help, tried to do a lot more than he was capable of doing. He wasn't there. It didn't turn out the way he wanted it to.

"He still has everything he needs stuff-wise to get people out. He has movement. He has a great changeup. He commands that fastball. We're hoping for a whole lot better for sure. And I'm sure he is, too."

Shields certainly arrived in camp in the right frame of mind. Having played for the Tampa Bay Rays for the first seven seasons of his career, Shields isn't one to shy away from a potential rebuild. He likes showing younger pitchers how to handle themselves over the course of a major league season and sees a lot of potential in the prospects the White Sox acquired.

"I'm smiling because I've been a part of rebuilds quite a bit," Shields said. "So for me, I love it. I absolutely love it. I love having the young kids, being a veteran, being a leader on the team and showing these guys what professional baseball is all about. I've been very successful with the teams I've been on with the rebuilds. We've got a good group of guys. Lot of young talent, lot of good talent and I'm excited to see these guys.”

Slumping White Sox get huge boost after Miguel Gonzalez 'defended his ground'

Slumping White Sox get huge boost after Miguel Gonzalez 'defended his ground'

Every factor but one suggested there was no way Rick Renteria would remove Miguel Gonzalez in the seventh inning on Monday afternoon.

Of course, Gonzalez didn’t know that.

But even as he walked to the mound with two on and no outs in the seventh and Wrigley Field roaring, Renteria didn’t have any intention of pulling Gonzalez.

Trades and injuries have given the White Sox manager even less wiggle room with which to work than the one-run lead Gonzalez was trying to protect. As long he was convinced his pitcher was game, Renteria would stay with Gonzalez. Gonzalez acquiesced and soon thereafter the White Sox were on their way to their first victory since July 8. The White Sox topped the Cubs 3-1 and in doing so snapped a nine-game losing streak.

“I just went in there to reaffirm that we were thinking the same way,” Renteria said. “He was thinking the same way. It was kind of easy.

“He said ‘I got this.’ He defended his ground.”

[Such a mighty wallop: How does Matt Davidson's mammoth home run stack up?]

Even though he had a front-row seat for the conversation, catcher Kevan Smith had little understanding of what transpired. The rookie said Renteria and Gonzalez spoke entirely in Spanish after Jon Jay and Javier Baez singled to open the bottom of the seventh inning. Smith heard Renteria mention to Gonzalez that lefty David Holmberg was ready to face switch hitter Ian Happ. Beyond that, all Smith heard from Gonzalez was ‘bueno’ and ‘listo,’ and Renteria was headed back to the visiting dugout.

But you don’t have to be a linguist to decipher what issues the White Sox pitching staff faces after a trying month.

Prior to Gonzalez pitching into the eighth, the White Sox hadn’t had a starter complete seven innings since June 16. An already overworked bullpen has also had to deal with season-ending injuries to Zach Putnam, Nate Jones and top relief prospect Zack Burdi. And those issues have been even further compounded by the trades of Jose Quintana, David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle in the past 12 days.

So even though Gonzalez was on the verge of facing the top of the Cubs order a fourth time, Renteria had to stick with him so he could save top relievers Dan Jennings and Anthony Swarzak for later.

“I said ‘Just give me the ball,’ ” Gonzalez said. “ ’I’m OK. I’m fine. I’m feeling OK.’ Just walked away and I was able to get out of that jam. That was a big one.”

Smith was also happy with the decision. He liked how Gonzalez — who threw strikes on 73 of 105 pitches — had competed. Smith thought Gonzalez had great stuff and heard positive reviews from opposing hitters.

“(Gonzalez) had it,” Smith said. “The guys were coming up to the plate saying this guy has got some stuff today. It was a big moment to kind of prove that he can be a long guy, especially late in the game like that. Big pressure situation. Obviously it was getting pretty rowdy, but he stayed composed and pitched his way out of it.”

First was a five-pitch strikeout of Happ that ended with a swinging strike on a curveball. Jason Heyward then popped out to shallow center for the second out. Kris Bryant worked a five-pitch walk to load the bases. But Gonzalez jumped ahead of Anthony Rizzo in the count 1-2 before he got the star first baseman to fly out deep to center to strand the bases loaded.

Gonzalez returned in the eighth and retired one more hitter before he exited after a Kyle Schwarber single. The effort was plenty for Renteria and the White Sox, who also wiggled out of jams in the eighth and ninth inning.

“Sometimes you just don't have any other option,” Renteria said. “You just have to do what you have to do. They had a really good idea of how they wanted to attack those guys. …

“Miggy did a really nice job.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Sox win game one of Crosstown Series

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SportsTalk Live Podcast: Sox win game one of Crosstown Series

Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun Times), David Haugh (Chicago Tribune) and Ben Finfer (ESPN Radio) join Kap to go over the exciting first game between the White Sox and the Cubs.

Plus, the latest on trade rumors linking Justin Verlander and Alex Avila to the Cubs. Do the Cubs really need to make another move?

Finally, the guys discuss whether Kyrie Irving asking for a trade out of Cleveland is the dumbest career choice, ever.