The White Sox opened their 4-game series against the Rays by squeaking out a victory they seemingly tried to give away. Thursday's game marked their best pitching match-up and the only game their likely to miss Evan Longoria. Given the probable starters for the next 3 games and the Sox dome woes, the Sox would be happy leaving St. Pete with a split, and ecstatic if they can take 2 of the next 3.
CLICK THROUGH TO BRUSH UP ON JAMES SHIELDS
Brushing Up On James Shields!
He's their ace and he's well known by now, with two straight seasons with 200+ IP and a FIP under 4. He doesn't have any obvious weaknesses and has a full four pitch arsenal. The fastball is solid and he commands it well enough. It's relatively similar to Armando Galarraga's, with a bit more oomph and movement and less strict adherence to the outer half.
The offspeed stuff is what separates him from the pack. The change is definitely the best of those offerings, as he's able to generated a ton of whiffs throwing it to both righties and lefties. It's this that allows him to have functionally equal splits. PECOTA casts him thusly:
Righties whiffed a full quarter of the time he threw a change, lefties marginally less. Average for a change is around 13%. Most pitchers almost entirely abandon the change same handed batters, which likely adds to the effectiveness of the pitch. Against RHB, Shields mixes in a very hard slider (avg mph = 88) about as much as the change, which he uses to get called strikes and groundballs. It might be more accurately described as a cutter. His least frequently used pitch is the curve, a more or less average pitch that he hangs at times. He'll use it to get ahead in the count after getting a strike and probably won't throw more than one to the same batter.
Predictably, against lefties he uses the change more and compensates with less slider and less curve, but PECOTA says, the results don't change. Thome probably has the best chance to go deep, since he recognizes change-ups well and his slider has less break than most. AJ's contact skills should prove useful, as it's not like Shields walks anybody anyway. He's kept his BB/9 under 2 over the last two seasons. Of the righties, I'm hard pressed to pick someone who would have any particular advantage against Shields relative to the rest of the field. We need a good outing from Del Grande today.