SAN FRANCISCO – The month of October might seem a strange time to be trouble-shooting in a bullpen session, but James Shields has left plenty of room for improvement this postseason.
So in advance of Sunday’s Game 5 start against the Giants at AT&T Park, the Royals ace got with Kansas City pitching coach Dave Eiland and tried ironing out some problems in his delivery. He’s confident that what they worked on will pay dividends as he matches up against Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.
“Obviously the last couple starts are not the way I wanted to end up,” Shields said Saturday. “But sometimes those things happen, and unfortunately it’s right now. But me and Dave had a really good bullpen session this last round. You know, I was just kind of rushing, rushing to the plate. The ball was getting flat. I was really just not getting the job done, bottom line.”
Over his past two starts, one in the World Series opener and one in the AL Championship Series opener against Baltimore, Shields has surrendered nine runs and 17 hits over just eight innings. Looking at the bigger picture, Shields is 3-5 with a 5.74 ERA in 10 career playoff starts. An improved effort Sunday obviously would be huge for his team, given the Royals and Giants are deadlocked at two games apiece in this best-of-seven series.
It would also bolster Shields’ resume as he approaches free agency. He is expected to be one of the marquee starters on the open market this winter along with Jon Lester and Max Scherzer, but the questions about his ability to produce under the glare of the postseason remain.
“We’ve got our guy going on the mound,” Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “Obviously he hasn’t pitched the way he wanted to this postseason. But we know what James Shields can do, and I think everyone in here is expecting a big outing from him.”
Shields is hopeful his side work with Eiland will translate into better command of his off-speed stuff. But Royals manager Ned Yost said he’s never had any recent doubts when Shields has taken the mound.
“I know his intensity. I know his work ethic, I know his competitiveness,” Yost said. “I know that as much as a lot of you guys think thse guys are lights-out perfect every time they go out there, they’re not. They make adjustments and they have good games and they have bad games. I know (Sunday) when he steps on that mound, he’s going to be ready both physically and mentally to compete and give us his best effort. And that’s all I can ask.”