By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Expectations tend to be lofty when a team makes a midseason trade for a veteran pitcher. In the case of right-hander James Shields, the deal that brought him to the White Sox from the Padres in early June has been a train wreck. Shields is 3-10 with a 7.50 ERA and 1.81 WHIP in 17 starts for Chicago this season.
The 34-year-old Shields has been dealing with some back stiffness, but on Tuesday he deemed himself ready to pitch this weekend.
Shields — nicknamed “Big Game James” — has thrown at least 200 innings in eight consecutive seasons and previously had displayed the ability to shine in the spotlight of his team’s most important matchups, making himself a favorite of his teammates and fans. Throughout his recent failures, Shields has stood tall.
“This is a great city,” Shields said Tuesday. “The organization has been great. Hopefully the fans will stick with me a little bit and believe in me. We’ll try to get better next year.”
Save for July when he registered a 1.78 ERA in five starts, Shields has found little success. Since arriving in Chicago, his command has been off, his velocity inconsistent and his mound presence non-existent.
“As for his performance, it’s been all over the map,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. “It was about as bad as it can get in certain stretches. There for a time arguably better than you could have reasonably anticipated. For a six- or seven-game stretch, he was pitching like a real solid front-end guy.”
The fourth and fifth spots in the White Sox rotation have produced an 11-21 record in 61 starts this season. If you take away the 6-2 mark of right-hander Mat Latos, who was released in late June, the record drops to 5-19 combined for the other numerous pitchers who have filled in on the back end. Only right-hander Miguel Gonzalez has given the team any consistent innings from the fourth and fifth slots.
The offseason plan for the White Sox with Shields has already been laid out by Hahn and company. Shields has two more years left on his contract, during which he’ll be owed around $20 million. He has an opt-out clause after this season but isn’t expected to use it given these recent struggles.
“Hopefully he finishes strong,” Hahn said. “Obviously we want him to finish healthy. We want him to go into the offseason on a positive note. We expect James to come back in spring training looking more like the guy we saw for that solid stretch rather than anything like we have seen since he struggled.”
Shields is expecting better results as well.
“Some years you have a real good feel for the baseball,” Shields said. “Some years you don’t. This year I have not really felt it as much as I wanted to. I have been a bulldog my whole career. I will go and assess things this offseason. I hopefully can finish strong this season.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.