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Royals name Shields Opening Day starter

Big offseason acquisition will take hill against White Sox in Chicago on April 1

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SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Old baseball tradition: A starting pitcher doesn't talk to reporters (or much of anybody else) on the day he's going to take the mound.

After James Shields was named Kansas City's Opening Day starter on Friday, however, he ignored the taboo even though he'd be facing the Angels later in the afternoon.

"Well, it probably wouldn't be a good idea to do it later if I gave up a nine-spot and then it's announced I'll be the Opening Day starter," Shields said, laughing. "So I figured I'd do it before the game."

The only uncertainty about Shields starting the Royals' opener against the White Sox on April 1 was when manager Ned Yost would formally announce it. When a reporter asked Yost for a reason for his choice, the manager shot a look of incredulity.

"Why Shields?" Yost exclaimed. "C'mon, dude, that doesn't even deserve an answer."

Indeed, Shields was the big prize of the whopper offseason deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. He's supposed to lead the staff, if not the entire team. So his start at Chicago on Opening Day was a foregone conclusion.

"It's great, it's a tremendous honor," Shields said. "Obviously Ned has the decision to make, and I'm very honored and grateful."

Yost also set the order for the rest of his five-man rotation: Ervin Santana (No. 2), Jeremy Guthrie (No. 3), Wade Davis (No. 4), and either Bruce Chen or Luis Mendoza (No. 5). Chen is the only left-hander.

That positions Santana as the Royals' starter in their home opener on April 8 against Minnesota. It was a choice between Santana and Guthrie for the two-three spots.

"It was a hard call," Yost said. "It's pretty even. They've both done well. You're not going to do better any way you do it. Shields is our No. 1 starter. Any way you line those three guys up after it, you're going to be in good shape."

This will be Shields' fifth Opening Day start. He made four for the Rays.

"The first time I pitched Opening Day I was a nervous wreck," he said. "This is a special day -- that's when baseball season is about to start, and it's an exciting day ... you just kind of go out there and keep your mind at ease and go with it."

That 2008 Opening Day turned out to be a 6-2 victory for Shields and Tampa Bay at Baltimore. The Orioles' starter in that game was a now-familiar fellow named Jeremy Guthrie.

"All I know is our guys were in our dugout and we were in Baltimore and I'm warming up in the outfield and all I see is their guys running in from center field right past me, one-by-one, their whole entire team. It was a pretty crazy day. It was exciting. And once I threw my first pitch, I was good to go, but beforehand, I was pretty nervous."

The opener against the White Sox will be at 3:10 p.m. CT. Shields will be opposed by Sox left-hander Chris Sale.

"As players, we try to think of it as another game. Whether I'm the Opening Day starter or not, it takes all five of our guys to win a championship, and we're going to need all five guys to be able to do that," Shields said.

The fifth pitcher in that rotation has yet to be decided. Chen and Mendoza each has one more Cactus League start remaining.

Yost said he'll stay with a five-man rotation for most of the season's first month -- except for the mid-April period where there are two open dates around a two-game series at Atlanta. Then he'll go to four pitchers for one turn of the rotation.

The reason is Shields and two other starters would be working on the seventh day instead of the normal fifth day.

"I don't want to do that. I can live with six days, but not seven. And Guthrie and Davis will have to throw on the seven, but that's just the way it works out," Yost said.

Coincidentally, Shields did indeed fulfill his jesting prophecy and gave up a nine-spot -- nine runs (eight earned) in his five innings against the Angels.

"I'll never say that again," Shields said.

Yet, despite the nine runs and 11 hits, he did get a 91-pitch workout and felt that his rhythm and mechanics improved after the second inning. Not only that, he received credit for the Royals' 13-9 victory. So there were some positives.

"You could say that, but I'm a competitor and obviously I want to do well. Today was not a very good day," Shields said. "I was making some pretty good pitches that they were hitting. That's a pretty good hitting ballclub over there, so you've definitely got to give them credit."

Shields' next outing will come next Wednesday night against the Cubs.

"I've got one more start here before Opening Day, so I've got to hone it in on this next start," Shields said.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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