No pitcher has had a worse month than James Shields. On May 31, he allowed 10 runs in 2 2/3 innings in a start against the Mariners. That prompted Padres executive Ron Fowler to call the outing an "embarrassment to the team, an embarrassment to him."

San Diego traded Shields to the White Sox a few days later, and in his first three starts which Chicago, the veteran right-hander allowed 22 runs in 8 2/3 innings. Yikes. Here are his last four starts:

Date Opp. IP H R ER BB K HR
May 31
2 2/3
8 10 10 4 1 2
June 8
vs. WAS
2 8 7 7 2 2 3
June 13
vs. DET
5 9 7 6 4 1 1
June 18
@ CLE 1 2/3
7 8 8 3 2 1

That's a 24.62 ERA and a 3.97 WHIP in only 11 1/3 innings. Opponents hit .485/.563/.879 with 13 walks and only six strikeouts against Shields in those four starts, which is unfathomable. This is one of the worst stretches of pitching we've ever seen by anyone, let alone a pitcher with Shields' credentials.

Thursday afternoon, Shields went into his fourth start with the White Sox looking to avoid making dubious history. It's been nearly a century since a pitcher last allowed 7+ runs in five straight starts.

The good news is Shields did not allow seven runs Thursday. He only allowed three runs on five hits and four walks in five innings against the Red Sox while striking out two. That's not great, but it sure is a heck of a lot better than his previous four outings, no doubt about it.

The numbers were better than they have been, but watching Shields live, it was easy to see something is still not right. He was putting everything he had into each pitch and was still struggling to top 90 mph with his fastball. Also, his location was awful. For example:

Shields face 23 batters and did throw 15 first pitch strikes, which is good, but he also generated only six swings and misses out of 99 total pitches. That's not so good. Red Sox hitters were able to foul off 19 pitches, including eight with two strikes, so Shields did not have a put-away pitch working.

I don't know if Shields is hiding an injury or if this is simply the result of throwing 200+ innings year after year for the better part of a decade. Whatever it is, Shields is now a pitcher who has to work hard for every single out. Things don't come easily anymore.

James Shields was better Thursday, but he's not right. USATSI