Alex Avila is the son of a general manager, and a catcher at that, so his view on piecing a team together comes with some cred.
The White Sox’ catcher has heard the banter about the possibility of Chris Sale and/or Jose Quintana being traded in the offseason, and while he’s not about to tell management what to do, Avila says he would proceed with caution. “Dominant,” frontline, top-of-the-rotation quality like that is what every GM covets, Avila said. Throw in blossoming lefty Carlos Rodon – who appears to be on the precipice of perhaps being mentioned in the same breath as Sale and Quintana, as well as quietly effective right-hander Miguel Gonzalez, and the Sox have four fifths of what could be one of the best rotations in baseball.
And what about James Shields? The 34-year-old right-hander, who pitched six innings of one-run ball in the Sox’ 2-1 victory against the first-place Cleveland Indians Thursday, shouldn’t be written off for 2017, Avila insists.
“He has something you can’t really teach anybody,’’ Avila said Thursday, “a track record and the work ethic where he can get back at it in the offseason and right the ship. Some guys when they struggle like that get put in a place mentally where they can’t recover. James is not that type of person.’’
And that was Avila, who did not catch Shields Thursday, speaking before the right-hander struck out eight and allowed only three hits.
“I’ve seen him enough, and faced him enough as a hitter, that I would give him every benefit of the doubt,’’ Avila said.
Avila and manager Robin Ventura agree that Shields’ stuff is not an issue. His fastball, which touched 93 mph Thursday, might be a tick or two below his prime years when he strung together nine straight seasons of 200 innings or more but it will work if he regains his command.
“He’s had some issues with mechanics, which plays a huge part in a pitcher’s ability to command pitches,’’ Avila said. “If you don’t feel comfortable it can be difficult when you’re constantly fighting yourself as well as the other team can make for a tough day. I would think in the offseason he’ll be able to recover those things he struggled with this year.’’
The Sox would hope so, having two years of his services remaining on a contract costing them $10 million (the Padres also owe him a shade more than that) in each of the next two seasons.
Shields has had two very bad stretches wrapped around one good one with the Sox since he came over in a trade with the Padres in June. His outing Thursday was something of a microcosm of his season with the third inning including two walks and a hit batter (he escaped with one run allowed) and a run of nine straight batters retired which followed.
His strike percentage of 58.9 going into the game was the second lowest in baseball, and he often missed badly during the third. But he regrouped and finished with exactly that strike percentage, throwing 59 of his 100 in the zone. The curve was the best Ventura has seen from Shields this season.
“I felt pretty good with my curveball today,’’ Shields said. “I was able to locate it. Bounced a few more than I wanted to but other than that it was a good day.’’
Shields lowered his ERA to 6.94. That’s how rough things have been this year. But this was exactly the type of outing he needs to take into the offseason.
“There was some depth to his curveball,’’ Ventura said. “It was sharp, and he used it to get out of some binds.
“I know it hasn’t gone as well as he would want but when you’re running into the end of the season you want to finish with something that’s strong and you feel positive about, and that’s what he is doing.’’
Shields said he has tweaked some mechanical things “just little stuff here and there.’’
Perhaps he’s on to something.
“For the most part I think today overall was pretty good,’’ he said.