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Padres plan to lean on Shields for leadership

New skipper Green looking to veteran to be a 'voice in the clubhouse'
MLB.com @boomskie

PEORIA, Ariz. -- James Shields is the highest-paid pitcher in Padres history, but he will not be their Opening Day starter on April 4 against the Dodgers at Petco Park.

In a way, that makes some sense. Why waste Shields against Clayton Kershaw in the first game of the season, when Zack Greinke is no longer in Los Angeles to pitch the second game?

PEORIA, Ariz. -- James Shields is the highest-paid pitcher in Padres history, but he will not be their Opening Day starter on April 4 against the Dodgers at Petco Park.

In a way, that makes some sense. Why waste Shields against Clayton Kershaw in the first game of the season, when Zack Greinke is no longer in Los Angeles to pitch the second game?

Greinke is slated to start the opener for the D-backs against the Rockies on April 4 at Chase Field, the same day Tyson Ross will match up against Kershaw. New Padres manager Andy Green bestowed the young Ross with a great honor, but it's better strategically for Shields to pitch against Hyun-Jin Ryu, Scott Kazmir or whomever the Dodgers designate to replace Greinke in the No. 2 slot.

"It is what it is," Shields said on Saturday before San Diego worked out at the Peoria Sports Complex. "It's not even an issue to me. I mean, I'm just getting ready to go. I'm real proud of Tyson and the way he worked as a [top-tier] pitcher in the league. I'm just excited to be part of this whole thing."

Green said he'll follow Ross and Shields with Andrew Cashner. Right now, the rest of the rotation is up for grabs. Green said he would've had no qualms about starting Shields against Kershaw. After all, Shields pitched six strong innings against Kershaw in a 6-3 loss in last season's opener at Dodger Stadium.

"I like the rotation the way we've set it," Green said. "It separates the guys who throw 95 and 97 [miles per hour from] a guy who pitches with more moxie. I think it sets us up well. Shields handled starting behind Tyson as a pro. He told him, 'Hey, Tyson, it's your job this year, but I'm coming back to get it next year,' which is what you want to hear."

This is a key season for Shields, who signed a four-year, $75 million contract on Feb. 11, 2015, just days before the start of Spring Training, as the Padres were trying to cobble together a division-title contender during that offseason.

Video: Outlook: Durable Shields is a shoe-in for 200 innings

There are three key elements to Shields' contract, the largest ever given by San Diego to a free agent:

• He was paid $10 million in 2015 and will get $21 million each in '16, '17 and '18.

• It has a club option for $16 million in 2019, with a $2 million buyout.

• The righty can opt out of the contract no later than three days after the end of this season's World Series.

Shields, a Southern California kid who had already moved to Rancho Santa Fe in San Diego's North County, picked the Padres as a lifestyle decision. San Diego is pretty much where he wants to stay and play ball.

Saying that, though, Shields went to the World Series with the Rays in 2008 and the Royals in '14, losing both times. This is a guy who wants to win.

For his part, Green said he has spent a lot of time chatting with the 34-year-old since he was named manager this offseason, tapping into his expertise. Green said he had a long breakfast with Shields on Saturday morning, just to judge the early spring temperature of the team.

"[Shields has] been awesome," Green said. "He's a leader here. He's a guy we're going to rely heavily on to get our message out to the clubhouse. He relishes that role. He relished the part he played in Tampa [Bay] and the part he played in Kansas City, the culture in both of those places. We're looking at him to really be a voice in the clubhouse."

When Shields arrived for his first Spring Training with San Diego last season, he looked around the clubhouse and saw a lot of talent, but too many disparate parts.

Shields wound up 13-7 with a 3.91 ERA, allowing 33 homers in his 33 starts. Still, he pitched 202 1/3 innings, the ninth consecutive time in his 10-year big league career he's tossed more than 200 innings.

Video: ARI@SD: Shields strikes out Lamb, notches 200 innings

In retrospect, Shields acknowledged the expectations last year might have been too high, too soon. The Padres blew out of the gate 10-5, but after a managerial change, they finished 74-88 -- 18 games out of first place in the National League West.

"I think the team's feeling a little more comfortable this year," Shields said. "We had a lot of new guys last year. A lot of guys who were high-profile guys. Bringing 11 new guys in last year was a little difficult, as far as the comfortability part of it. Guys are starting to feel a little bit [more about] each other right now, and we're going to try and build on that this spring."

Once again, there's huge turnover in San Diego's clubhouse. It's way too early right now to judge. Not even a Cactus League inning has been played, but Shields likes what he sees.

Winning creates chemistry, as the axiom says.

"I think chemistry creates winning, that's my answer to that," Shields said. "You listen to every single interview after a World Series game or playoff game, and all you hear players talking about is brotherhood and chemistry. They don't talk about stats and how they got there. They just talk about the brotherhood in the clubhouse -- and that's how they won."

The quest to create that kind of chemistry for the Padres will start with Game No. 1 this season, or in Shields' case, Game No. 2.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.

San Diego Padres, James Shields