Performance notwithstanding, James Shields is leader in clubhouse

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Right-hander James Shields is far from No. 1 in the hearts of White Sox fans. That’s how it’s going to be when you arrive on the scene at a considerable cost and flop to the tune of a 6.77 ERA and 31 home runs allowed in four months.

Shields, who was booed when the Nationals raked him for seven runs and eight hits — including three homers — in two innings in his first home start after the Sox traded for him last season, totally gets his place among the fans and wants to win them over this season. But when it comes to where he stands in the Sox’ clubhouse, it’s a different story.

Shields is the alpha dog, manager Rick Renteria said. That just comes with 11 years of experience, nine consecutive seasons of pitching 200 innings or more and 11 postseason starts, including three in the World Series.

So where fans view him through a ‘‘what have you done for me lately’’ sort of lens, Shields’ teammates see the big picture.

James Shields against the Red Sox during the first inning at Fenway Park on June 23. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

‘‘With his playoff experience, years here and position in the game of baseball, he’s a natural go-to guy when you need that veteran leadership,’’ infielder Tyler Saladino said.

And Shields’ 6-19 record last season means nothing in that regard?

‘‘Not at all,’’ Saladino said. ‘‘The game of baseball is humbling, and he has experienced plenty of things. Because he’s had success and extreme failure, he’s a great guy to go to for everything. He’ll tell you that’s part of it.’’

Plus, Shields is 35.

‘‘I’m the oldest guy in the camp,’’ he said, laughing at the sound of that. ‘‘It’s OK to say that. I take that as a compliment. They were calling me ‘elder statesman’ when I was in Tampa, so I’m kind of used to it. But I still feel young, and age is a number. I still feel great.’’

Shields said he ‘‘wouldn’t go that far’’ to say it’s his clubhouse. That’s part modesty and part knowing his performance with the Sox last season was bad.

‘‘I’m just one of the teammates, man,’’ he said. ‘‘But I hope people see me as a leader.’’

A case in point: With the Padres early last season, Shields called rising star and teammate Wil Myers to his hotel room, ordered room service and talked about baseball and life for four hours. Myers now credits Shields for giving him a needed kick in the rear and telling him to play through a wrist issue.

‘‘If you’re hurt, you’re hurt,’’ Shields said. ‘‘But at the end of the day, you mentally have to go out and grind 162 [games] out and put up your numbers.’’

Shields, who is scheduled to make his second start of the spring Tuesday against the Rangers, said aches and pains aren’t an issue for him.

‘‘My body feels good,’’ he said. ‘‘The ball is coming out of my hand pretty decent right now, which here in spring training is all that matters.

‘‘I definitely think I was trying to do too much [after the Sox acquired him in a trade June 4 with the Padres]. My ball was really flat last year; I didn’t have a very good angle on my ball last year. But sometimes you get in ruts like that.’’

It was never about desire.

‘‘I go all out every pitch,’’ Shields said.

Renteria said he is looking forward to better things from Shields this season.

‘‘Do I expect that he will [bounce back]?’’ Renteria said. ‘‘I’m hoping he will. He does not like looking bad out there, and he’s a competitor. Time will tell. . . . I hope and anticipate he will have a bounce-back year and put himself on the map again.’’

Follow me on Twitter @CST_soxvan.

Email: dvanschouwen@suntimes.com

 


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