Cooper to Shields: 'We need more strikes'

Righty has allowed 21 ER over first 8 2/3 IP with White Sox

Cooper to Shields: 'We need more strikes'

CLEVELAND -- There's a simple solution in the mind of White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper on how to fix things with starter James Shields.

Actually, it's not really simple, as much as it's a basic principle of pitching, but still not guaranteed to extricate the veteran right-hander from a stretch of four straight rough starts.

"Here's the dilemma. Right now, we need more strikes, simple as that," Cooper said. "First-pitch strikes, getting ahead in the count.

"When you see after 30 pitches, it's 15 balls, 15 strikes, we need more strikes than that. You've got to attack, and specifically earlier in the count to get into pitcher's counts."

Cooper always has been fiercely loyal to his pitching staff, taking umbrage in the past when outside criticism is heaped in their direction. But it's hard to find many positive with Shields' White Sox beginning since he was acquired from the Padres for Erik Johnson and Fernando Tatis, Jr.

After giving up eight runs on seven hits over 1 2/3 innings in Saturday's 13-2 loss, Shields has now allowed 21 earned runs over 8 2/3 innings to go with 25 hits against five strikeouts and nine walks for the White Sox. He has faced 62 hitters over those 8 2/3 innings and has pitched in five innings where he has faced seven hitters or more. His ERA has jumped from 3.06 to 6.28, factoring in his last start with the Padres, which is tough to do with 10 previous starts prior to this streak.

Shields joins Alex Fernandez (1991), Vern Kennedy (1936-37) and Sugar Cain (1936) as White Sox pitchers who have allowed six-plus runs over four straight starts. He became the first Major League pitcher to yield 31 earned runs over a four-start stretch since Jose Contreras with the White Sox from July 15-31, 2007, according to STATS.

These struggles certainly aren't being brushed aside by Shields, who has talked after each start about needing to get better and needing to give the White Sox a chance. There also has been talk of pitch-tipping, but that issue isn't No. 1 in Cooper's mind.

"I've looked at tipping, a lot of people have looked at tipping, and we're still addressing that," Cooper said. "But before tipping, we need strikes. When anybody dominates the game, it's because you're throwing strikes and you're throwing 2-1 strikes at least, and we're not there.

"We're working on him using his legs, riding and staying behind and over the ball. Staying on his pitches, to drive the ball, get out front a little bit more, get more extension. That's the difference we saw in the last film session, and that's the only thing that's there."

The White Sox have been able to rally from big deficits this season, including the second Shields start against Detroit on June 13, when they trailed 7-0. But facing a pitcher such as Danny Salazar with an 8-0 divot to climb out of is near impossible.

"You can do it every once in a while, but it's very hard to be down like that, especially as tough as the night before was," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. "You battle back. You tie it up, they win it. You still feel like you fought back."

Scott Merkin has covered the White Sox for since 2003. Read his blog, Merk's Works, follow him on Twitter @scottmerkin, on Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.