By Bruce Levine–
GLENDALE, Ariz. (CBS) — White Sox right-hander James Shields had the worst season of any starting pitcher in baseball last year, which both the numbers and eye test support. Even Shields himself won’t deny it after going 6-19 with a 5.85 ERA and 1.60 WHIP while allowing 40 homers in 181 2/3 forgettable innings.
The question now is how does the 35-year-old Shields rebound from a career-worst season to reach his quality old form? Shields has been contemplating and reflecting on that himself, and he knows hard work is the answer.
“Last year was not the first time I have had a rough season,” Shields said. “I have been in the game a long time. I know how to deal with it and combat it. I worked really hard in the gym this offseason. I looked at some video as well. I am ready to go. Let’s see what happens.”
The White Sox were criticized on some fronts after making the trade to acquire Shields from the Padres last season. He was reeling at the time, having given up 10 runs in his last start before Chicago sent right-hander Erik Johnson to San Diego for him. Despite seeing the poor results, the White Sox’s reasoning was that that Shields had thrown at least 200 innings in nine straight seasons and was highly regarded as a competitor. The White Sox were also only on the hook for about half of the money left on Shields’ contract.
Now, the White Sox owe Shields about $22 million through 2018, and it doesn’t appear to be a movable contract. None of that is on Shields’ mind, though. He’s just focused on improving.
“I really do not want to go too deep on this,” Shields said. “I am focusing on my mechanics. I worked on things in the gym to get me going. My main focus in spring training is to remain healthy and get my work in.”
Not hiding from the harsh reality of 2016, Shields fielded questions about his failure to get the job done.
“I of course wish it could have been better,” Shields said. “There is no doubt about it. I am a competitor. You ask anybody, I am a competitor and I do not like to lose and get hit around like that. Was it a shocking factor? Not really. Sometimes those things just happen. You just want to make sure it doesn’t happen to often. Right now, I feel great. I have a lot of confidence in my ability and the hard work I put in during the offseason.”
Being a part of a rebuild like the White Sox are undergoing now is nothing new for Shields, who had to deal with that in both Tampa Bay and San Diego.
“I am smiling because I have been a part of rebuilds before,” Shields said. “For me, I love it. I love having young kids around. I love being the veteran and a leader on a team. I like the idea of showing these guys what professional baseball is all about and how to go about their business. I have been very successful with teams that were rebuilding. We have a great group of guys here. We have a lot of young talent. We have a lot of good talent. I am excited to see these guys work here this spring.”
The reality of losing teammates Chris Sale and Adam Eaton was shocking to many players,including Shields, who formed a fast and close relationship with Sale after coming over in the trade.
“Those things happen,” Shields said. “Chris is one of my favorite teammates I have ever played with. He is the ultimate teammate. A lot of the people from the outside really don’t know what a great teammate he was. He will definitely be missed around here. There is no doubt about that as a player, you know these things happen. We have a lot of talent to work with in this clubhouse right now.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.