By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Coming off one of the worst seasons a pitcher could have in the big leagues, White Sox right-hander James Shields has set his sights on regaining some of his past glory and old form.
On Thursday, the 35-year-old Shields took a step in that direction in his season debut, registering a nice start in which he allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings to help the White Sox to an 11-2 win against the Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field. It followed a 2016 season in which he was 6-19 with a 5.85 ERA and 1.60 WHIP and allowed a career-worst 40 homers, an embarrassing campaign for an intense competitor that was difficult to endure.
“My delivery was out of whack,” Shields said about his abysmal 2016 season. “My pitches were flat. For the most part, I was up in the zone. There were combinations of things that went on. We addressed it all.”
For at least one game, Shields’ performance reflected progress toward that. Shields allowed just two hits but did walk five while striking out five in his 104-pitch outing. It was Rick Renteria’s first win as White Sox manager.
Shields hopes to be better grounded after focusing on his conditioning and command in the offseason.
“Fastball command is what we worked on the most,” Shields at the end of spring training. “I guess one of the best attributes for a baseball player is to have amnesia. I will not worry about last season. I am focused on right now. The work we put in during spring training was good. I am ready to go.”
Shields struck out the side in the first inning to help work around a first-and-second jam and was only touched up on Tyler Collins’ solo homer in the second inning. Outside that, it was some wildness that hurt him, but Shields made pitches when he needed to.
“I was a little erratic with my fastball today,” said Shields, who’s 24-12 in his career in April. “I thought I kept them off balance as much as I could. I was able to get a bunch of popouts today when I needed it. The boys got me a bunch of runs. That in itself helps out any pitcher.”
Catcher Geovany Soto and designated hitter Matt Davidson both hit three-run homers as the White Sox had an 11-hit day. Soto also hit a solo homer in the seventh inning and was impressed by Shields’ outing.
“Shields was great today,” Soto said. “He was mixing speeds well. He also had command on both sides of the plate. That was the best I have seen him.”
With the White Sox rebuilding, the veteran Shields will be watched by many others clubs as the season progresses. He has two years left on his contract, with the White Sox owing about $20 million in salary to him.
Shields has been a gentleman in answering questions about his awful 2016. Now, he hopes that days like Thursday can help put that in the rearview mirror.
“It is always good to have a clean slate at the beginning of the season,” Shields said. “We do have a long season to go. We did get off on the right foot today. A few more walks than I wanted. We still have a lot of work to do. We will just continue to grind.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.