The numbers paint a discouraging picture.
In his four postseason starts, James Shields hasn’t fooled many hitters. In 19 innings he has surrendered 15 runs, all earned, for a 7.11 ERA.
But Shields is the Royals’ World Series game-five starter on Sunday, and manager Ned Yost almost defiantly defended the pitcher who opened the American League Wild Card Game against the A’s and AL Championship Series against the Orioles.
“I’ve seen him pitch for 65 starts or so, I know what kind of pitcher he is,” Yost said. “I know when he steps on the mound he’s going to be ready physically and mentally to compete and give us the best effort.
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“That’s all I ask.”
Any doubt about Shields’ next start after the World Series opener, when he surrendered five runs and seven hits in three innings in the Giants’ 7-1 victory, didn’t come from Yost.
“I know his intensity, I know his work ethic, I know his competitiveness,” Yost said.
The first inning has haunted Shields in the postseason. Opponents have scored in three of the four starts, with home runs in all three games. Hunter Pence got Shields in the opener.
“Obviously the last couple of starts weren’t the way I wanted them to end up,” Shields said. “Sometimes those things happen; unfortunately it’s right now.”
Shields has been a workhorse since arriving two years ago in the trade with the Rays that brought along Wade Davis for outfielder Wil Myers, among others. His 27 victories in two seasons top the Royals, and his leadership in the clubhouse and positive influence on younger players has been immeasurable.
It’s fair to suggest the Royals wouldn’t have reached the postseason without Shields.
But through Friday’s game-three victory, he has been the most ineffective of the Royals’ starters throughout the playoffs. Opposing hitters own a .337 batting average in those games, and a .381 average on balls in play.
Shields typically surrenders hits — only David Price and Mark Buehrle gave up more than Shields’ 224 during the regular season. But Shields also is among the game’s most durable pitchers. His 34 regular-season starts tied for the most in baseball and his 227 innings tied for fifth.
He hopes a mechanical adjustment made since his last start will get things back on track. Shields said his motion to the plate has been too north and south and not enough east and west, affecting his arm angle.
“When you do that your ball tends to stay flat,” Shields said. “So hopefully I can create a little better angle and all my off-speed pitches will come after that.”
Yost points to another moment of trust in a player that paid off in the World Series. After outfielder Alex Gordon went hitless in the first two games, extending a zero-for-15 streak entering game three, Yost pushed him up in the lineup, from his usual fifth spot to second. Gordon responded with an RBI double.
“Did I lose confidence in Alex because he was oh for 15? Absolutely not,” Yost said. “He stepped up and got a big hit for us. It’s the same thing with James Shields.”