1. ‘Big Game James’ can have a sort of derisive ring to it. Harsh as that might be, James Shields made his Chicago White Sox debut after coming over in trade from the San Diego Padres, and suffice to say, it did not go well. The Washington Nationals raked Shields for three home runs and seven runs in two-plus innings as the White Sox lost 11-4. John Danks could have done that.
@WriteSox The Curse of Drake will rest with everyone who wears #25.— Dom (@WhiteSoxDom) June 9, 2016
It gets uglier the closer you look. All three homers were no-foolin’ no-doubters, with Ryan Zimmerman creaming a (slow) fastball into the left-field seats, while Stephen Drew and Danny Espinosa pulled full-count, off-speed pitches into the right-field seats. Drew’s blast was off a changeup, the pitch that used to be a key element to Shields’ arsenal but one that hasn’t been more than a league-average pitch in the past three seasons, according to FanGraphs’ measurements via wRC+. The Nationals also got a pair of first-inning hits off changeups and two second-inning groundouts. Shields used to get swinging strikes on the changes 21 percent of the time, but that’s down to around 16 percent this season. For a guy whose fastball sits around 90 mph, that’s not a lot of deception.
Overall, Shields’ swinging-strike rate isn’t bad at 10.9 percent (the MLB average is 10.6), but if you’re not fooling guys like Drew, a guess hitter with a .606 OPS from 2014-2016, you have problems. Pitch in the homer-happy Cell and you have big problems ... in games ... for a guy named James.
Of course, it’s just one game, and Shields has the benefit of plenty of time getting used to pitching at U.S. Cellular Field and working with pitching coach Don Cooper, a guy you can reasonably credit for building all sorts of pitchers back up into working order. And considering that the White Sox didn’t really give up much or have to eat much salary to bring him in, you can still hope that, like the White Sox’s decision to take on Alex Rios back in the day, there are better days ahead. Because after introductions this ugly, there had better be.
2. Ichiro is within 10 hits of the Hit King. Between his two hits on Tuesday and three more on Wednesday, Ichiro Suzuki now has 2,971 hits in the major leagues. But if you count his Japanese leagues performance from before his 27th birthday and coming over to the U.S., he has 4,249 career hits as a pro, just short of Pete Rose’s 4,256. I know that isn’t an apples to apples, but considering there’s also some folks who don’t care for Japanese and Korean pros being eligible for winning the rookie of the year award, I figure you can’t please everybody all of the time. The more basic thing is that it’s cool to see Ichiro get to this point and have a conversation about the two of them.
Career multi-hit games— Ace of MLB Stats (@theaceofspaeder) June 9, 2016
Wade Boggs 885
Career three-hit games
Lou Gehrig 254
Just as Rose wasn’t all that in the last several seasons of his career, Ichiro has been limping on the downslope of his career towards reaching 3,000 career MLB hits. But just as Rose had something a bit better than a dead cat bounce in his next-to-last season to pass Ty Cobb in 1985, putting up a .713 OPS (his only season north of .700 in his last six seasons), Ichiro is having his best year in his past six seasons as he closes in on both milestones, hitting .330/.387/.376 while spot-starting in all three outfield positions or DHing for the Miami Marlins -- as he did in Wednesday night’s loss.
Much like Rose, whatever power Ichiro had is long gone. He’s 0-for-17 on fly balls this season, but that isn’t his game. He is nevertheless providing value through his judgment at the plate, but where Rose was basically reduced to working for walks and skipping balls off the turf at old Riverfront Stadium in the end, Ichiro is lining, grounding and legging out balls hit through big league infields as a 42-year-old man doing things his way.
Rather than argue about the two, let's admit that if you saw both, you enjoyed both. As I wrote about Ichiro last year when he blew by Ty Cobb:
As willing as anybody might be to keep playing, that’s a decision somebody else makes for you. Obviously, Ichiro wants to keep playing, so maybe he’s fortunate a team such as the Marlins exists to give him the opportunity. It makes for a distinction between his situation and Rose’s: Somebody else has to say whether he can play, even if it has to be with a semiserious carnival franchise like the Marlins.
3. Jameson Taillon had a nice little debut. The top prospect of the Pittsburgh Pirates threw a quality start against the New York Mets, giving them a good-not-great turn by allowing three runs in a game the Bucs ultimately lost in 10. While he wasn’t overpowering in the line score, whiffing just three batters in six innings, he was throwing mid-90s heat all the way into the sixth and totally looked like the guy we’ve been anticipating.
The big question for the Bucs is, how would they justify sending him back down after bringing him up to help paper over their need for an extra starter after Tuesday’s doubleheader? They’re just 13th in the majors with a 4.08 ERA from their rotation and 20th in OPS allowed at .771, while getting a fairly mediocre 31 quality starts in 59 games. You can blame Francisco Liriano's slow start for only part of that, with Jonathon Niese, Jeff Locke and Juan Nicasio allowing an average of 4.4 runs per nine in their turns. The question is, which one would Taillon replace?
4. Taijuan Walker can be amazing. Walker threw eight shutout innings and whiffed 11 Cleveland Indians, while batterymate Chris Iannetta’s pair of home runs off Carlos Carrasco gave the Seattle Mariners a 5-0 win. According to GameScore, this was the second-best start of Walker’s big league career at 87, ranking behind a complete game with 11 strikeouts he threw on the trade deadline day last season. It’s worth remembering he’s still just 23 years old, and guys posting 4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratios are the people you bet on for turning the corner. It was also a really good thing to see, because after running off four quality starts to open the season, Walker went 0-6 in his past seven turns while coughing up 30 runs in 34⅓ IP. A quick look at his pitch mix suggest he has basically junked throwing anything but heat and his splitter; if ditching his curve and cutter can deliver more nights like this, the M’s will make it very hard on the Texas Rangers in the AL West this summer.
5. Reds pitching is great ... if you want a souvenir. Cincinnati allowed four home runs in its 12-7 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals to get to 101 taters served so far this season. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the Reds earned the dubious distinction of giving up 100 home runs faster than any team in history besides the 2000 Kansas City Royals, who did it in 57 games. That K.C. team won 77 games; this Reds team isn’t that good.
Christina Kahrl writes about MLB for ESPN. You can follow her on Twitter.