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Shields honored to be Opening Day starter

Right-hander will pitch season's first game for eighth time in career
Special to MLB.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Starting on Opening Day will never get old for veteran White Sox right-hander James Shields, even though he's thrown out his team's first pitch seven times -- and soon to be eight -- going into his 12th Major League season.

"No matter how many times you've done it, it's always an amazing honor," said Shields, who has compiled a 138-123 record and 3.97 ERA in 373 career MLB outings. "To be able to lead this young group of players and pitching staff, it's going to be a proud moment for me."

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Starting on Opening Day will never get old for veteran White Sox right-hander James Shields, even though he's thrown out his team's first pitch seven times -- and soon to be eight -- going into his 12th Major League season.

"No matter how many times you've done it, it's always an amazing honor," said Shields, who has compiled a 138-123 record and 3.97 ERA in 373 career MLB outings. "To be able to lead this young group of players and pitching staff, it's going to be a proud moment for me."

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Though it didn't come as a massive surprise, the White Sox officially announced Saturday that Shields will start Opening Day at Kansas City on March 29.

Now 36, Shields has persevered through tough times over the past couple of seasons, posting a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts after the White Sox acquired him from the Padres in 2016 and struggling to a 6.19 ERA through July of last season.

Video: Shields ready to take the mound on Opening Day

Shields bounced back with a strong final two months of 2017, with a 4.33 ERA over 60 1/3 innings in 10 starts. During that stretch, Shields held opponents to a .229 batting average and struck out 59 while walking 23.

"He's gone through a lot, put himself back on track," White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. "The second half of the season for him was a huge boost, [he] made some adjustments."

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Renteria said Shields' history made him an ideal choice for the season opener.

"[He's] had significant success over the course of his career and has put himself working through what most might consider a pretty tough spell, staying confident, staying focused, he kind of reinvented himself," Renteria said. "Showing that the competitive juices still flow -- he's got the ability to adjust in a game that requires a lot of adjustments and he's going to be able to go out there and give us a nice outing."

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Shields will make his second Cactus League start Sunday against Oakland. He tossed four innings on March 8 against the Rangers, holding them to one earned run on three hits, striking out three and walking one.

"I feel amazing … this is the best I've felt in three years in Spring Training," Shields said Saturday. "I'm going to go out there and try to build off the end of my last year."

Despite his slow 2017 start, Shields typically has pitched at a high level early in the season. In 57 career games in March and April, Shields has a 2.92 ERA and a 1.104 WHIP, better than any other month.

In addition to his Opening Day responsibilities, Shields expects to be a mentor to a relatively inexperienced set of Sox starters.

"I really embrace that role of helping these young guys out," Shields said. "This year, I'm really excited. You look at our staff and we are young, no doubt about it, besides myself. But we've got a lot of talent and I think White Sox fans are going to be excited about what's coming in the future."

Dave Sessions is a contributor to MLB.com who covered the White Sox on Saturday.

Chicago White Sox, James Shields