Powell at the Park: Shields struggles in Sox debut

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(Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

By Kevin Powell

It was an unforgettable White Sox debut for starter James Shields for all the wrong reasons. He lasted just two innings, giving up eight hits and seven runs to the Nationals. “I was all over the place today,” Shields said after the 11-4 loss, the Sox fifth straight. “I wasn’t getting ahead of hitters, and when I did they hit it out of the yard,” Shields added.  Washington hit three homers off the righty.

The Shields trade brought some hope back to 35th and Shields. But it quickly dissolved after he was shelled in his second straight outing. Most shrugged off his final start with the Padres when he gave up 10 runs in 2 2/3 innings, calling it a fluke. Now that outing is looking like a potential red flag.

Shields velocity is down more than 2 mph compared to two seasons ago. There was almost no command with his pitches, some hitting a couple feet in front of home plate. He tossed 84 pitches, just 44 for strikes.

Shields has been an innings eater, throwing 200+ innings in 9 straight seasons. Maybe it’s finally catching up to him. Or, maybe not. And it’s certainly not time to panic over the veteran, but a season that started with so much promise (the Sox were 23-10 at one point) has taken a disastrous turn where it seems nothing can go right. They’ve lost 12 of 14, 20 of 26 and fell below .500 for the first time this season after Wednesday night’s loss.

Of course, it’s too early to call the trade for Shields a bad one. But the Sox have to be a bit anxious about a guy who has allowed 17 runs in his last 4 2/3 innings. Last season Shields gave up 33 homers, the most in the National League. He’s already given up 12 this season, and will now be pitching at homerun friendly US Cellular Field.

General manager Rick Hahn’s deal for Shields appeared to be a great one. They needed to add a starting pitcher, and probably still need one more. Trade talks normally don’t begin for another week or two, but Hahn was able to get a legitimate starter in a thin market without giving up much. It still may turn out to be one of Hahn’s better moves, but it certainly got off to a rocky start.