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Keys To Defeating James Shields

Tonight the Phillies offense faces James Shields. The 26-year-old right-hander went 14-8 with a 3.56 ERA in his best season yet. Throwing 215 innings, he struck out 160 and walked 40.

Shields has superb control, and won’t walk hitters at all. He checks in with a 90 mph fastball, a low-80s two-seam fastball, a changeup that has the same speed and an average curveball. He doesn’t carry prominent breaking stuff, so he relies on the variation and movement of his two fastballs to carry him.

Let’s look at his three worst starts this season:

May 3 at Boston: 3.2 IP, 10 H, 7 ER, 3 BB, 3 K
He threw just 55 strikes of his 98 pitches, and the three walks in that short time shows bad control. The Sox jumped on him extremely early, with four straight hits to open, to score three runs. The Sox’ top-two left-handed hitters (Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz) were 4-for-4 in plate appearances against Shields.

June 5 at Boston: 1 IP, 3 H, 4 ER, 0 BB, 2 K, HBP
Again, the Sox jumped on him early. This time Dustin Pedroia was hit by a pitch, then JD Drew doubled, setting up a three-run homer for Manny Ramirez. In the second, he hit Coco Crisp, taking him out of the game.

Sept. 18 vs. Minnesota: 6.1 IP, 8 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 3 K
His worst home start, again, he was hit in the first. The Twins tried small ball to get the run home, but with two on and two out, Jason Kubel hit a home run. In the third, a pair of singles got a run home, thanks to some errors. And in the seventh, a leadoff single and some small ball led to a two-run Joe Mauer single.

A few trends you can take out of this:

  • Leadoff hitters have to get on. When Shields is at his worst, he’s got a guy on base and nobody out. All three of these starts proved that.
  • Home runs are not the necessity. Singles kill Shields more than anything, so find a hole and get at it. The homer will come naturally.
  • Jump on him early. Shields won’t give up too much in the first inning, but if you can get a run or two off him then, you’ll be much better off. Moreover, he’s worst in the second inning (.848 opponents OPS).

It’s very crucial Jimmy Rollins has a nice game tonight, especially in that very first at bat. I’d think hard about popping Shane Victorino back into the two-hole, if I was Charlie Manuel. Anything to get Shields early.

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