James Shields to get first — and likely last — Opening Day start with White Sox
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One more time. One last time, too.
It wasn’t a surprise Saturday when the White Sox revealed that pitcher James Shields would make his eighth career opening-day start — his first with the team — March 29 in Kansas City. As of this point, though, it might shock the world if the 36-year-old right-hander ever got to do it again, anywhere.
Shields will be the team’s fourth different Game 1 starter in four years, following Jeff Samardzija in 2015, Chris Sale in 2016 and Jose Quintana in 2017. Each of the three of them was gone before the following season — Samardzija to the Giants, Sale to the Red Sox and Quintana to the Cubs.
And Shields? His contract is up after the season. He’s 9-19 with a 5.99 ERA in 43 starts with the Sox since arriving in a June 2016 trade — pretty gnarly numbers, though his performance improved down the stretch last season after he made adjustments to his delivery. Not many expect him to be around in 2019.
More significant: next year would seem to belong to the team’s arms of the future. Will it be Lucas Giolito’s turn to open a season for the first time? Or Reynaldo Lopez’s? There are other potential candidates among the key pieces of the Sox rebuild.
“You look at our staff, we are young, there’s no doubt about it — besides myself,” he said. “But we are young and we’ve got a lot of talent. I think White Sox fans are going to be really excited about what’s coming in the future.”
Meanwhile, Shields has every right to enjoy his latest opening-day assignment. He had four of them with the Rays, two with the Royals and one with the Padres. This time, he’ll oppose Kansas City’s Danny Duffy.
“No matter how many times you’ve done it, it’s always an amazing honor,” he said. “And to be able to lead this young group of players and pitching staff is going to be a proud moment for me.”
Manager Rick Renteria praised Shields for fighting through the worst stretch of his career with the Sox and showing that he might have a bit more left in the tank than once thought.
“He’s staying confident, staying focused and showing you that the competitive juices still flow,” Renteria said, “and that [he has] the ability to adjust in a game that requires a lot of adjustments.”
Shields is well down the list of players about whom Sox fans are excited. This isn’t 2016, when he joined Sale and Quintana to seemingly solidify the Sox as contenders in the AL Central. It’s about winning future races now.
The old guy will take the ball anyway.
“I don’t put too much emphasis on what kind of year I’ve had in the past,” he said. “I’m feeling really good right now and hopefully will have a good season this year.”
Follow me on Twitter @SLGreenberg