Shields working through difficult stretch
Halos' typically lights-out reliever battling inconsistency
BALTIMORE -- Scot Shields insists he's healthy, that a scoreless inning of relief Tuesday night is a reason to be encouraged, not concerned.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia isn't so sure, though he admits any lingering injury problems left over from Spring Training aren't related to Shields' right arm, which he still considers one of the most valuable commodities in the Los Angeles bullpen.
That's why Scioscia visited the mound last night in the middle of the eighth inning, after Shields had walked Baltimore's Lou Montanez to put the potential tying run on deck. Instead of calling for another reliever, Scioscia wanted to know if Shields was fit enough to continue.
"He's battling some things in his lower legs," Scioscia said. "We're not really totally concerned about it, but if it's something that's affecting him, we want to know about it. The first couple of hitters, the ball wasn't really coming out very well, and he settled down and got out of the inning, but he's important to us. We're going to have to put a lot of attention to him and get him back to where he can be, because he's vital to our bullpen."
Shields, who battled shin splints in Spring Training, said that problem is behind him. As evidence, he points to Tuesday's outing, his third consecutive effort in which he hasn't allowed an earned run. In that span, his ERA has fallen from a season-worst 14.40 to 9.39.
"I threw some balls, but I felt like I wasn't missing by all that much," Shields said. "My last three or four outings, I feel like I'm getting closer to [pitching like] myself. It's encouraging."
Shields may be seeking to accentuate the positive, but Scioscia was likely worried about how hard Gregg Zaun had hit a ball into the hole between first and second after Shields walked Montanez on 3-1 fastball. Shields raced to first base to get the throw from second baseman Howard Kendrick, since first baseman Kendry Morales had ranged to his right to try and snag the ground ball, which could have easily dribbled into right field. Shields got out of the inning by gloving pinch-hitter Luke Scott's crisp comebacker and then retired Brian Roberts on a fly to deep right-center, relying almost exclusively on fastballs.
"I'm fine. No [problems]," Shields said. "As long as I know I'm healthy, as long as I feel I'm on the right track, that's all I need. It's a scoreless inning last night and I'll just move on."
The Angels need Shields to revert to the solid setup guy he's been for the past six seasons, when he's never pitched in fewer than 64 games or posted an ERA higher than 3.86. Shields has led the American League in holds for each of the past three seasons.
But Los Angeles' bullpen has been struggling, meaning Scioscia needs stability.
"We're trying to settle into some roles and some guys aren't where they need to be," Scioscia said. "Scotty's still searching for some stuff. ... We need these guys at the back end to hold leads."
Shields credits a recent bullpen session, where pitching coach Mike Butcher noticed -- and corrected -- a small mechanical flaw in his delivery.
"I made a minor tweak and I felt like everything started to click again," Shields said. "Just something real small. It seemed to work and it's still a work in progress, but I feel real good about how it's going."
Now all he has to do is make Scioscia a believer.
"We're going to ... put a lot of focus and attention on Scotty and make sure he's where he needs to be physically," Scioscia said. "It's a minor thing, but sometimes minor things throw off your mechanics a bit and you're not getting the ball into the spots you should."
Pete Kerzel is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.