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Shields, Fulmer overcame similar issues, Cooper says

Pitching coach Don Cooper approaches the pitcher's mound to talk with James Shields (25) as Jose Abreu looks on during the first inning of their game against the Detroit Tigers at U.S. Cellular Field on June 13, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)

One is an 11-year veteran, the other a top minor league prospect.

Both may figure into affecting the White Sox postseason chances during the second half.

Both James Shields, 34, and Carson Fulmer, 22, ran into similar problems, Sox pitching coach Don Cooper said. Both appeared to be adversely stirred by high expectations, Cooper believes, and have corrected their problems.

“James Shields when he came here had a bad outing in San Diego,’’ Cooper said. “The owner [Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler] hammers him. He comes to a new team, wanting to impress, wanting to do a lot. Wanting to be good. And there was some anxiety built up and anxiousness to do that. And I think then he became a guy who was doing too much, working too fast and everything was racing and strikes were compromised.’’

Shields’ failure was epic. Three more horrendous starts followed a 10-run nightmare in San Diego, bringing criticism for everyone from Shields to Sox scouts to general manager Rick Hahn, who committed $27 million through 2018 for Shields by trading for him on June 4. But three good starts later, Shields seems back to being the starting pitcher the Sox bargained for.

“On a minor league scale, Fulmer was doing the same thing,’’ Cooper said. “Coming in, [No. 8 overall draft pick in 2015], wanting to justify, want to show everybody, coming out busting out there and probably doing too much,’’ Cooper said. “When things happen to you there is a reason behind it, usually for you to learn something from it. It showed me if it can happen to an 11-year veteran who has been through the wars it certainly can happen to a first-round pick.’’

During one dreadful stretch at AA Birmingham in May, Fulmer walked 21 batters in four starts covering 15 1/3 innings. But after allowing two earned runs over 19 innings in his last three outings, Fulmer’s ERA is down to 4.76 from 5.82 on June 19, and he’s being considered as a second-half bullpen option for the Sox. He will represent them in Sunday’s Futures Game in San Diego.

Cooper said he slowed down Fulmer’s delivery in spring training, and he slowed Shields down, too, between and during pitches.

“When the cockpit’s out of whack the plane is going to crash,’’ Cooper said. “When the mind races, the body is going to race.

“Think about it. You’re struggling and you have 100 different thoughts going through your head. And on top of it everybody is hooting on [Shields] in the first inning of his first game. Our fans, hooting on him.’’

To Cooper, Shields had a telling moment during a recent side session where he said ‘[Screw] it,’ as if to clear all of the mental toxins from his system and start anew.

“For him to start fighting his way out of that shows a lot about who he is,’’ Cooper said. “That guy was still in there. And I knew we were going to get him out but I wasn’t sure how quick it would happen. You always hope the sooner the better. He’s in there somewhere but the mental guy was choking the physical guy.’’

Shields, who starts Sunday against the Braves in the final game before the All-Star break for the Sox, who want to build on their streak of five straight series wins, never looked terribly shaken through that slump.

“I’ve been in similar ruts – not that bad of one – in my career,’’ Shields said. “But you just kind of move forward.”

When pitchers are “rushing things can fall apart and that’s what was happening,’’ Cooper said.

“And with Carson, we know he’s good, but he was trying to overdo it and trying to do more. And more ain’t better. Do what you do.’’