White Sox

After walk-off, White Sox building the expectation to win

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After walk-off, White Sox building the expectation to win

As he braced for his teammates to envelop him in a giddy mob, a beaming Carlos Sanchez stirred the drink.

Neon t-shirts with Adam Eaton’s face on them and hand motions don’t win divisions and pennants. But for the White Sox, after Sanchez’s walk-off single netted them a 2-1 win over Cleveland and sixth consecutive victory, the straw that stirs the drink has become a noticeable element for a club that’s now over .500 for the first time in 2015.

While White Sox players prefer to keep the origin and explanation of the straw that stirs the drink shirts and gestures inside the clubhouse, the fact that it’s become a public thing — even being tweeted out by the team's official Twitter account — is a sign this group of veterans, greenhorns and high-profile offseason acquisitions is starting to come together and believe it can win every night.

[MORE WHITE SOX: Adam Eaton's aggressive baserunning pays off]

“It usually takes time,” designated hitter Adam LaRoche said. “Some teams get it really early, other teams pick it up later and some teams never get it. It’s one of those things.

“But the thing is, you gotta win to get that. It’s not something you can teach a team or teach guys individually to get. It comes with winning and coming back in games and winning, which we’ve done.”

That belief was justified Monday, as Chris Sale matched a dominant Corey Kluber to help keep the White Sox from being buried against the reigning American League Cy Young winner. Sale fired eight innings of one-run ball, working like the kind of ace who could go pitch-for-pitch with a guy who’s totaled 30 strikeouts in his last two starts (just short of tying Kerry Wood’s modern record of 33 strikeouts, set in 1998, in consecutive starts).

“He’s probably the best pitcher in the game,” Sale marveled. “He has the nastiest stuff I’ve ever seen, really.

“It’s not a comfortable at-bat when you go up there and tell yourself if I make contact here, I’m doing pretty good,” LaRoche added. “I really don’t like that feeling. That’s kind of what I got tonight off of Kluber. That was as about as good as I’ve ever seen."

[MORE: White Sox exercise caution in removing Avisail Garcia with knee tweak]

Down 1-0 and flailing away at Kluber’s video game arsenal, Eaton chopped a triple down into the right field corner with one out in the seventh. After Melky Cabrera struck out for the second time — Monday was his first multi-strikeout game since Sept. 2, 2014 — Eaton set his aggressiveness level to ludicrous speed and broke for home on a 1-1 breaking ball in the dirt.

The ball barely bounced away from catcher Roberto Perez, but Eaton dove for the plate and dislodged the ball from Perez’s glove to score the tying run. Jose Abreu wound up striking out in that at-bat, so Eaton’s instincts paid off. This was one of those nights where no one seemed destined to get an RBI off Kluber, but the White Sox still found a way to score.

“I think we’re all starting to get confident,” Sale said. “We’ve always believed in each other but I think we’re starting to believe in ourselves. When we put that combination on the field, hey, he’s the best pitcher in the game and to come out and not be fazed by that, to keep grinding, to keep at it and win in the end, you can’t ask for much more than that."

Having Sanchez deliver the walk-off hit, too, was another pick-me-up to avoid an insult-to-injury 10th inning. Avisail Garcia drew a leadoff walk to start the frame but was removed with right knee inflammation, and with the winning run on second Alexei Ramirez popped out on the first pitch and Geovany Soto struck out.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

The 22-year-old Sanchez fell behind on two upper-90’s fastballs from Indians righty Zach McAllister, but flipped a 97 mile per hour 0-2 fastball on the low and outside corner just out of the reach of a diving Zach Walters in left for the game-winning hit. Sanchez has only been back with the team for four games after trading places with Micah Johnson between Charlotte and Chicago.

He’s the latest metaphorical straw to stir the metaphorical drink. More importantly, he generated another step in the right direction for a team that’s starting to gain what LaRoche said is an important key to becoming a contender.

“More than anything, you build confidence,” the 12-year major league veteran said. “Every game like this, you come back the next day with a little more confidence. And that’s huge, that’s what this whole thing’s about.

“When you get to the point where you show up to the field every day expecting to win, and not hoping to win, that’s when you know you’re a really good team. And those are the best teams that I’ve been on, that show up every night expecting to win.”

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

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AP

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some teams have it easy, with their 25-man rosters seemingly locked into place before spring training games even start.

The White Sox actually have a lot more locked-down spots than you might think for a rebuilding team, but this spring remains pretty important for a few guys.

The starting rotation figures to be set, with James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer the starting five. Carlos Rodon, of course, owns one of those spots once he returns from injury. But the date of that return remains a mystery.

From this observer’s viewpoint, eight of the everyday nine position players seem to be figured out, too: Welington Castillo behind the plate, Jose Abreu at first base, Yoan Moncada at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yolmer Sanchez at third base, Nicky Delmonico in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Matt Davidson as the designated hitter. More on the omission of a starting center fielder in a bit.

Omar Narvaez would be a logical pick to back up Castillo at catcher, and Tyler Saladino is really the lone reserve infielder with big league experience, not to mention he’s a versatile player that can play anywhere on the infield.

Leury Garcia also figures to be a lock for this 25-man roster. But will he be the everyday center fielder, as he was for a spell last season? He played 51 games in center in 2017 but battled injuries throughout the year. I think Leury Garcia will end up the starting center fielder when the season begins because of his bat. His .270/.316/.423 slash line isn’t going to make anyone do cartwheels, but it’s better than the offensive struggles of Adam Engel, who started 91 games in center in 2017 and slashed .166/.235/.282. Engel would still be a solid inclusion on the bench because of his superb defense, but to create that big a hole in the everyday lineup is tough.

How could that position-player group change? Keep your eyes in center field, where there are a couple other guys who could force their way into a roster spot this spring: Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell. Tilson has had a tremendous amount of trouble staying on the field since coming over to the White Sox in a 2016 deadline deal, but that hasn’t dampened the White Sox hopes for him. And Cordell got name-dropped by general manager Rick Hahn during SoxFest, when the GM said he’s received multiple calls about Cordell since acquiring him last summer. Cordell put up good numbers at the Triple-A level prior to a significant injury last year.

But the main battles figure to be in the bullpen. At times this winter, as the White Sox kept adding players to that relief corps mix, that the whole thing seemed wide open. But when you think about it, maybe there are only one or two open spots.

You’d have to think these guys are pretty safe bets to make the team: Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Though Hector Santiago was just recently acquired on a minor league deal, he’s really the only long man of the group, and he could sub in if there’s an injury to a starting pitcher. That leaves two spots between the group of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira — not to mention guys signed to minor league deals like Xavier Cedeno, Jeanmar Gomez and Bruce Rondon.

Bummer had a 4.50 ERA in 30 big league games last year. Farquhar had a 4.40 ERA in 15 games. Vieira has gotten attention as a flame-thrower, but he’s got just one big league game under his belt, something that might or might not matter to the rebuilding White Sox. Guys like Gomez, who has 40 career saves including 37 just two years ago, and Rondon, who had multiple shots at the Detroit Tigers’ closing job in the past, could vault themselves into the mix as potential midseason trade candidates.

Then there's the question of which of those guys will be Rick Renteria's closer. Minaya had closing duties after most of the bullpen was traded away last summer. He picked up nine saves and posted a 4.11 ERA in his final 17 appearances of the campaign. Look to Soria, though, a veteran with plenty of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. If he's given the opportunity to close and succeeds, he could fetch an intriguing return package in a potential deadline deal.

But now it's game time in Arizona.

“The fun part of playing the game of baseball is playing the game of baseball," Renteria said earlier this week. "We prepare. I think they all enjoy what they’re doing in terms of their preparation. They take it seriously, they focus. But ultimately like everything that we do in life, I guess it’s a test. And the games are a test for us on a daily basis. And how we are able to evaluate them and take advantage of the opportunities that we have to see them in a real game situation is certainly helpful for us.”