Ok, let’s give a look at what Shields has been doing to avoid disaster

Thursday, Major League Baseball ordered San Diego Padres general manager A.J. Preller to be suspended 30 days without pay for falsifying medical records submitted in the trade of Drew Pomeranz to the Boston Red Sox. It’s a tangibly light penalty–Preller will likely be able to pay his bills alright in the interim, the Padres are not exactly working on a blockbuster in late-September, and they still get to keep Anderson Espinoza–but still a more serious acknowledgement of wrongdoing than is typically passed down to a major league front office.

Though no one has reported any specific concerns raised about James Shields‘ physical condition, Buster Olney reported that the White Sox were one of the teams “enraged by what they perceived to be strategic deception: veiling medical information that could have been pivotal in trade discussions.”

The Sox, at least, did not give up Anderson Espinoza.

It’s into this context that Shields pulled off a shortlist contender for his best start in a White Sox uniform. Six innings, three hits, one earned run, three walks and eight strikeouts isn’t exactly prime Koufax, but with only a handful of hard hit balls all afternoon, Shields exhibited a rare mastery of his domain.

As much as Shields has struggled to rack up any whiffs since his arrival, he’s just seemed helpless to mitigate what’s wrong with him. Fastballs lose speed, breaking balls flatten, changeups lose feel, but as much has Shields seems worn out at the end of a very long career, he’s also been through the wars. He’s suffered through down seasons before, he made his living racking up complete games, nights where he would lose his mechanics and find them again and keep going, and still went through a half-season’s worth of starts of just getting hammered regularly with no escape. It’s bizarre. Not just on a ‘bad things happen to the White Sox’ level, but it’s a mystifying result for this specific player.

In that light, any stanch of the flow would be notable. I would be tempted to write about Shields’ objectively bad start last Saturday, where he somehow packed four walks around two monstrous home runs and came out with a quality start on the other side, as some sign of progress. Instead, we have this objectively good outing, where Shields mostly killed Cleveland’s getaway day lineup with a really sharp curveball, getting six of his 10 swings-and-misses with it, mostly with diving action down and out of the zone.

This is…not necessarily a secret breakthrough strategy. His curve was getting launched for all of July and August, and he certainly wasn’t holding back an effective secondary pitch for other options. There’s a temptation to say he should live out of the zone more, given how much natural life on his pitches he’s lost, he should let his rabid opposition chase their way out of crush mode. Pretty much any curve that Shields threw that wasn’t nasty was at least not hittable, and anything to keep from leading the league in home runs allowed is worth it. Become Samuel Deduno is not really a compelling a career plan, but consider the alternative we’ve been living with.

Or more likely, this was one start, where he had a curveball. Maybe in his next start, he’ll have his curveball again, and then maybe if he has it–or hell, something two-thirds as good as his old changeup–for a third start, we’ll really have something to marinate on. For now, it’s just a nice flash, and over it hangs the specter that the Sox may have been dealt something pre-degraded, if not pre-ruined, that they will never be able to fully redeem.


Lead Image Credit: Matt Marton // USA Today Sports Images

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