By Bruce Levine–
GLENDALE, Ariz. (670 The Score) — One of the most respected pitchers in baseball, veteran White Sox right-hander James Shields is attempting to reinvent himself and be the source of inspiration for a youthful rotation at once.
Shields, 36, has had a nightmare one-and-a-half seasons since joining the White Sox in a trade from the Padres in June 2016. He had a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts with the White Sox in 2016, then went 5-7 with a 5.23 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 21 starts in 2017. He’s allowed 67 homers in 54 starts since the start of 2016.
Now, Shields is trying to use his grit and determination to become a winner in the big leagues again, while fighting off father time and battling young sluggers who are swinging for the fences more often these days.
Shields has been using a new delivery this spring, one that includes a drop down in arm slot after consultation with the coaching staff. He hopes past experiences help him reinvent himself now.
“I had surgery in 2002 and my velo went down a little bit,” Shields said. “That was the case for a couple of years, and I had to work on my off-speed stuff for the first time. That was the first time I had to become a pitcher rather than a thrower. That helped me hone my skills. When my fastball came back, I kind of took off.”
Shields knows he’ll have to rely heavily on his off-speed stuff and control.
“Look, it helps to have plus velocity,” Shields said while laughing about what he once had. “You want a good fastball or a well-located one. At the end of the day, if you can mix up your speeds and you know how to more or less be efficient with your pitches, you can compete. You must trust your stuff and trust your defense. That way you can be successful.
“The hitters are so good these days. They can all hit between 95-100 miles per hour. If you have the good location and become efficient with your stuff, you can succeed no matter how hard you throw. Baseball is a difficult sport. You are adjusting every year. You as a competitor make those adjustments to your stuff that day and hitters’ tendencies every game and every season.”
Shields enjoys the company of a young group of White Sox pitchers that includes Reynaldo Lopez, Carlos Rodon and Carson Fulmer. Even with the age difference, the fun flows without hesitation.
“I don’t really look at my position as a mentor,” Shields said. “I am their teammate first. I want them to feel like their experiences are the same as mine. I just have had more of them. At the end of the day, you never are going to stop learning until you are finished playing. That means me as well. We are a unit. If these guys need help, I am here for them. I hope it also works the other way.”
Shields’ time in Chicago has been difficult, as he’s lost his magic. Nonetheless, he still relishes toeing the rubber every time out.
“I still love the game,” Shields said. “I am having a blast playing. I am 36 years old. This is my 13th season (in the big leagues), 18 total. I am having just as much fun now as when I first got drafted. Seeing these young guys around me definitely help out with my energy level.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.