James Shields Day: The Debut | The Process Report

James Shields Day: The Debut

Five years ago, James Shields made his first major league start. It came against the Orioles after Shields spent 61 1/3 innings battering Triple-A hitters by striking out 64 and walking six. A 16th round selection in the 2000 draft out of California, the Rays bought Shields away from his commitment to Louisiana State University and watched as he dominated the low minors. Although Shields and injuries appear to have no relationship now, he did suffer from elbow tendinitis in the minors. Prospect lists? Shields never was one for them. Not until after his 2005 season at least, and even then, the rankings were modest.

On that May night, it seemed unlikely that Shields would make 100 starts for the Rays—what, with all the pitching depth coming through the system—and to envision another 150-plus starts was stretching the means of reasonable expectations. The offense would stake Shields to a 3-0 and then 5-1 lead in the game, but he blew it in the fifth. There would be no win for Shields in his debut game, instead it would go to the aptly named Sendy Rleal, a middle reliever of the generic cloth the Orioles are required to employ because of bird law.

That night gave us the first taste of Shields’ ethereal changeup, his quick feet, his stretch motion—which may as well be the same motion he uses to swing a heavy maul—and his susceptibility to a bad inning. There was some glory, some pain, and some in between, but it sprung the career of one of the best pitchers in franchise history. Today, we flesh out the details.

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