White Sox

Brawl builds bonds: White Sox look for a spark

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Brawl builds bonds: White Sox look for a spark

They’re still in the getting-to-know you process but the White Sox have a much better idea who their new teammates are after Thursday night’s melee.

From the second Yordano Ventura stared down and shouted obscenities at Adam Eaton, the White Sox showed off their protective nature. Benches and bullpens cleared and a group with 13 new players rallied together in defense of Eaton and others in a beanball war that has persisted throughout the team’s first four meetings of 2015 with the Kansas City Royals.

The incident resulted in a delay of several minutes and a number of scuffles, including several highly visible charges by White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija.

[MORE WHITE SOX: Five ejected in White Sox, Royals brawl in seventh inning]

“There are a lot of feisty guys in here, too, which I like,” Eaton said. “A lot of guys like me. I respect our guys, too. You come out there on my behalf, it's awesome. It shows the team camaraderie.”

Samardzija may have earned the most points among his teammates.

Though he didn’t play in Thursday’s 3-2 loss to the Royals, Samardzija didn’t hesitate to get involved in a brawl that left Kansas City manager Ned Yost on the ground. With his long brown hair flying every which way, Samardzija twice charged into a mass of bodies and appeared to be trying to engage Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain. In one instance, Samardzija -- who was not available for comment -- charged toward Cain and Kansas City third-base coach Mike Jirschele tried to intervene, which left he and the pitcher on the ground.

[MORE WHITE SOX: Adam Eaton on KC - "I respect the hell out of that team"]

“We have some guys in here that pulled for each other and we’ve known that the whole time,” pitcher Chris Sale said. “I don’t think tonight was any different than any other night or any other game or anything that we didn’t already know about each other.”

When Samardzija -- who drew first blood in this ongoing feud, hitting Cain on Opening Day after a Mike Moustakas home run -- was on the ground, Kansas City pitcher Edinson Volquez attempted in vain to land several punches. But Volquez quickly backed up and ran away from the fray when White Sox catcher Tyler Flowers stepped in and started to bark.

“It definitely can be a bonding thing,” Flowers said. “As a team right there, protecting each other’s, watching your back … You don’t want to see those kinds of things happen a lot, but when they do, you count on the guys around you to make sure nothing bad happens.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

White Sox manager Robin Ventura likes how his players defended one another. As of Thursday night, he wasn’t sure if any suspensions would be handed down -- though it’s hard to imagine nobody is penalized.

“You see what’s going on out there and you don’t know how it exactly starts, but once it starts … there was a good team thing behind it too, when guys have each other’s backs,” Ventura said.

Sale hopes another positive for the White Sox emerges from what he called a “big mess.” The White Sox have struggled through their first 15 games but Sale hopes Thursday’s event can act as a catalyst.

“Let’s hope it’s something that sparks us, lights a fire,” Sale said. “We need something like that and hopefully it catapults us into a streak and we look at this and keep going up.”

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

Lucas Giolito relieved to be able to shed No. 1 pitching prospect label

GLENDALE, AZ — You don’t need a scale to see that Lucas Giolito lost some weight in the offseason. As he walks around Camelback Ranch, he just seems lighter. These pounds were shedded thanks to a certain label that has been detached from his name and his being.

“Lucas Giolito, number-one pitching prospect in baseball” is no more.

“Definitely. Big time relief. I carried that title for a while,” Giolito told NBC Sports Chicago. “It was kind of up and down. I was (ranked) 1 at one point. I dropped. I always paid attention to it a little bit moving through the minor leagues.”

Which for any young hurler is risky business. The “best pitching prospect” designation can mess with a pitcher’s psyche and derail a promising career. Giolito was walking a mental tightrope reading those rankings, but after making it back to the majors last season with the White Sox and succeeding, the moniker that seemed to follow him wherever he went has now vanished.

“Looking back on it, that stuff is pretty cool," Giolito said. "It can pump you up and make you feel good about yourself, but in the end the question is, what are you going to do at the big league level? Can you contribute to a team? I’m glad that I finally have the opportunity to do that and all that other stuff is in the rear view."

This wasn’t the case when the White Sox acquired Giolito from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton trade in December 2016. When he arrived at spring training last year, he was carrying around tons of extra baggage in his brain that was weighing him down. Questions about his ability and makeup weren’t helping as he tried living up to such high expectations.

“Yeah, I’d say especially with the trade coming off 2016 where I didn’t perform well at all that year," Giolito said. "I got traded over to a new organization, I still have this label on me of being a top pitching prospect while I’m going to a new place, I’m trying to impress people but at the same time I had a lot of things off mechanically I was trying to fix. Mentally, I was not in the best place as far as pitching went. It definitely added some extra pressure that I didn’t deal with well for a while."

How bad was it for Giolito? Here are some of the thoughts that were scrambling his brain during spring training and beyond last season.

“I saw I wasn’t throwing as hard. I was like, ’Where did my velocity go?’ Oh, it’s my mechanics. My mechanics are bad. I need to fix those,” Giolito said. “Then I’m trying to make adjustments. Why can’t I make this adjustment? It compounds. It just builds and builds and builds and can weigh on you a ton. I was 22 turning 23 later in the year. I didn’t handle it very well. I put a lot of pressure on myself to fix all these different things about my performance, my pitching and trying to do it all in one go instead of just relaxing and remembering, ‘Hey, what am I here for? Why do I play the game?’”

Still, pitching coach Don Cooper wanted to see what he had in his young prospect. So last February, he scheduled him to make his White Sox debut against the Cubs in front of a packed house in Mesa.

“It was kind of like a challenge," Giolito said. "They fill the stadium over there. I’m like, ‘Alright here we go."

Giolito gave up one run, three hits, walked one and struck out two in two innings against the Cubs that day.

“I pitched OK," he said. "I think I gave up a home run to Addison Russell. At the same time, I remember that game like I was forcing things. I might have pitched okay, but I was forcing the ball over the plate instead of relaxing, trusting and letting it happen which is kind of my mantra now. I’m saying that all the time, just having confidence in yourself and letting it go.”

A conversation in midseason with Charlotte Knights pitching coach Steve McCatty, suggested by Cooper, helped turn Giolito’s season around. The lesson for Giolito: whatever you have on the day you take the mound is what you have. Don’t force what isn’t there.

Fortunately for Giolito he has extra pitches in his arsenal, so if the curveball isn’t working (which it rarely did when he came up to the majors last season) he can go to his change-up, fastball, slider, etc.

It’s all part of the learning process, both on the mound and off it. Setbacks are coming. Giolito has already had his share. More will be on the way.

“You want to set expectations for yourself. You want to try and achieve great goals,” he said. “At the same time, it is a game of failure. There’s so much that you have to learn through experience whether that be success or failure. Especially going through the minor leagues. There’s so much that you have to learn and a lot of it is about development. It’s a crazy ride for sure.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Rick Hahn gives an update on the state of the White Sox rebuild

In this episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Danny Parkins (670 The Score), Chris Bleck (ESPN 1000) and Scott King (WGN Radio) join David Kaplan on the panel.

Ryan Pace’s offseason begins. Josh Sitton and Jerrell Freeman are gone, but what will he do with Kyle Fuller?

Plus, Rick Hahn joins Kap from Glendale, Ariz., to discuss the state of the White Sox rebuild, how tough it is to keep their best prospects in the minors and why Jose Abreu is so important for his young team?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: