GLENDALE, Ariz. — After James Shields’ start Monday, in which he walked three and gave up two earned runs in 2.2 innings, the veteran was calm and professional despite the lackluster results.
“I think I could’ve been a little better in the first few innings,” Shields said of the performance. “But that’s part of Spring Training. You’re just getting used to throwing here.”
Shields’ comments are not particularly enlightening, nor are they uncommon for a veteran after an exhibition start. Results aside, pitchers who have been through the ringer a few times know that, at this point, the process of building yourself up for the start of the season is more important than any success or failure in an individual game. Finding anything insightful to say can be difficult.
But everything is different with Shields. Coming off what was easily the worst season of his career, the only thing that is certain for him at this point is that he’s going to get a shot to make things right again. But because of those struggles, every outing, and every comment, is going to be dissected as we look for clues to tell us what to expect out of him in 2017.
But neither the Shields nor the Sox have offered much in that area, either because there’s nothing insightful worth saying, or because they also don’t know.
“He looks good,” manager Rick Renteria said prior to Monday’s start. “His mindset is good. His mind is clear. He’s looking forward to potentially putting together a bounce-back season, if you want to call it that.”
Listening to Shields or Renteria talk about his progress this spring, it’s difficult to get a feel for what, exactly, either expects out of the right-hander in 2017. After a season in which he posted career-worst numbers virtually across the board — BB/9, K/9, ERA, ERA+, FIP, you name it — many pitchers might find themselves out of a job. But Shields is due $42 million over the next two season, $20 million of which will come from the White Sox. And for a team that isn’t building toward contention, someone has to pitch, and giving your expensive, recently acquired pitcher pitcher a chance to right himself is a perfectly reasonable decision.
So the question is: are outings like what we saw from Shields on Monday just another forgettable spring training start, or a sign that the Shields from recent past is also the Shields of the present and future?
The answer is impossible to say for certain, and it’s also likely the White Sox are equally unsure.
“He knows what he’s supposed to do,” Renteria said. “He knows what it takes to get it done. I think he’s a good self-evaluator, and we’ll continue to move forward and let the spring help us decide where we are with him.”
Shields is going to get a shot, spring results be damned. But while both he and Renteria continue to say the right things about his progress as he works to make his disastrous 2016 a distant memory, it’s unlikely we’ll know if there’s truly anything left in that right arm until the games start to matter.
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