James Shields just had not been James Shields lately. The ace of the Royals staff, Shields had pitched more like a fill in, although not quite at Aaron Brooks level of replacement pitching. In his previous three starts before yesterday, Shields gave up 17 runs, 15 of which were earned, over his last 18.1 innings. Even more concerning was his tendency to give up the long ball – after allowing only five in his previous ten starts, Shields had given up seven home runs in those three outings.
While Shields may not have been sharp yesterday, his outing against the New York Yankees was certainly an improvement. Shields had his moments when he struggled, but overall, he pitched fairly well, allowing only six hits and two walks over his six innings of work. Even though these are not the Bronx Bombers of old, nor are the big names still in their prime, this was the type of rebound that Shields needed.
With the Royals showing that their run over the last four months of 2013 may be able to be replicated through the early part of June, James Shields is going to be a major part of any success that the Royals can hope for. Detroit has not exactly run away with the American League Central, and with the division being as tight as it is, another surge similar to what the Royals had last year could be enough for a playoff berth. For that to happen, they need Shields to be the ace that he has proven he can be.
Even if the Royals scuffle and fall out of the hunt for October, it is still vitally important that Shields pitches well. With every excellent outing that Shields racks up between now and the trade deadline, the potential return for Shields can only increase. With Shields being extremely unlikely to return to Kansas City due to his probable asking price, the Royals would need to maximize their return on investment. Trading a top of the rotation starter who is pitching well would only enhance Shields’ value.
James Shields is also more than the Royals ace. He fits well as a mentor for the younger pitchers, particularly with Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. As someone who had been in that type of a role previously with the Tampa Bay Rays, Shields can not only teach the younger pitchers about preparation and how to pitch, but also what it takes to be a winner. That track record of winning could also be quite attractive to a team with designs on the postseason as well.
No matter what the future holds for James Shields, the Royals need him to pitch more like how he performed today. Every excellent start that Shields has will not only help the Royals in the standings, but could help them come the deadline as well.