That Big Game James nickname? Well, its actually sort of a joke.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
Thing is, new Royals ace James Shields, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in a six-player deal late Sunday, obtained the moniker before he ever threw an inning in the major leagues.
A former teammate in the Rays farm system, Chris Flinn, was aware of Shields fandom for the L.A. Lakers and former great James Worthy, and he referred to Shields as Big Game James in the clubhouse. The first time Flinn used the nickname, which is shared by Worthy, Shields fired seven shutout innings in his next minor-league start.
Needless to say, the name stuck.
And after a long wait, the Royals have their Big Game pitcher.
He goes to the head of our rotation, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said Monday. Hes one of the premier pitchers that we all recognize over the last few years in the major leagues.
Hes somebody that competes, gives you great quality innings, somebody who leads a pitching staff, and we have to have those type of examples on our major-league team if we are going to improve.
As for Shields new nickname Complete Game James he earned that one.
Shields, 30, has thrown 14 complete games over the past two seasons, more than any other player in baseball. Felix Hernandez is second with 10. Shields fired 11 complete games two years ago, the first pitcher to hit that mark since Randy Johnson did it in 1999.
Now he comes to a Royals team that has lacked both big and complete-game performances on the mound. Only the Brewers have had fewer complete-game outings than the Royals four over the past two seasons.
I think it starts with starting pitching, Shields said. What the Rays did over the past couple of years, its been about starting pitching and defense. ... I definitely pride myself on going deep into games and saving the bullpen. I think thats very important.
As much as Shields numbers stood out to the Rays rivals since his debut in 2006, he also made an impression on teammates and coaches that went beyond statistics.
In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times on Monday, Rays manager Joe Maddon called the six-player exchange between the Royals and Rays a good baseball trade but referred to Shields as a great teammate.
Pitcher Wade Davis, also acquired by the Royals on Sunday, described Shields attitude in the clubhouse.
Hes the type of guy (who) rubs off on other people in any situation, regular-season or postseason, said Davis, a teammate of Shields for the past four years. His attitude was were going to grind to win every game, and it doesnt matter who were facing or whos the opposing pitcher.
Married with two daughters, Shields is intense in setting this example on the mound. He once traded jabs literally with the Boston Red Sox.
In 2008, the Rays took issue with the way then-Red Sox outfielder (and former Royal) Coco Crisp took out second baseman Akinori Iwamura on a slide into second base. The following day, Shields hit Crisp in the right hip in his first trip to the plate, setting off a benches-clearing brawl.
Crisp charged the mound, and Shields threw a haymaker right-handed punch. The punch missed, but the point was made.
Youre going to get a big personality, Davis said of Shields move to Kansas City. Hes an absolute competitor on the mound.
Said Shields: I go out there with my heart (on my) sleeve and lay it all out on the line.
Shields was drafted in the 16th round of the 2000 MLB draft out of William S. Hart High in Newhall, Calif. He spent six years in the Rays minor-league system, though shoulder surgery forced him to miss the entire 2002 season.
The surgery took some heat off his fastball, so Shields added an effective change-up to his pitching repertoire.
Since reaching the major leagues, Shields has developed into a four-pitch pitcher fastball, change-up, cutter and curveball. He has compiled a career record of 87-73 and a 3.89 ERA.
Hes a gamer, said Royals pitching coach Dave Eiland, who served as a special assistant to the general manager in Tampa Bay in 2011. He competes as well as anybody around. He has a way of pushing the players and making them better. Hes everything you want in a pitcher.
He has also developed into a durable starter, one whom the Royals believe can match up with the likes of Detroits Justin Verlander and other opposing aces in key divisional games. A true innings-eater, Shields has thrown 200 or more innings in six straight seasons.
I definitely relish that theres no doubt, Shields said of his role at the top of the rotation. Im not the type of player that puts too much pressure on myself. I go out there and pitch my game.