White Sox

Brett Lawrie on second base: 'Ease up and just chill'

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Brett Lawrie on second base: 'Ease up and just chill'

OAKLAND, Calif. — He plays with an intense energy, but Brett Lawrie said he had no difficulty making the final play of Monday’s White Sox victory.

A converted second baseman, Lawrie was in the correct position and looked smooth as he scooped Yonder Alonso’s grounder in shallow right field and easily fired to first base for the final out of a 4-3 victory over the Oakland A’s.

Lawrie, who has been confident he could make the move back over from third base if he got enough quality repetitions in spring training, said he didn’t notice the roar from the sellout crowd of 35,067 at Oakland Coliseum when Alonso’s grounder got past the dive of Jose Abreu, who had ranged to his right.

“Time to slow it down, ease up and just chill,” Lawrie said.

[MORE: Robin Ventura: Nate Jones is 'really important' for White Sox]

The White Sox have to feel pretty relaxed about how Lawrie, who played second base in the minor leagues, has looked in making the switch back. He has more than enough athleticism to make the conversion.

It’s just a matter of getting enough opportunities, manager Robin Ventura said. Lawrie had plenty in spring and delivered a clean brand of baseball. He committed no errors among his 53 chances and was involved in 12 double plays in 106 innings.

“He doesn’t necessarily look like a third baseman trying to switch over,” Ventura said. “He’s looked fine.

“He’s going to have good range. That’s not necessarily the issue. It’s getting used to it over there and getting as many reps as you can. As far as athletic stuff, he’s very athletic and has plenty of range.”

Lawrie’s range helped him produce 35 Defensive Runs Saved at third base over his first three seasons. And he’s seemed to have no trouble going to his left on grounders throughout the spring and the first game. Lawrie also made a nice leading throw on the final play to pitcher David Robertson, who was covering first on the play.

“Once I saw Brett catch it I knew we were going to get him out,” Robertson said. “If it gets in the hole it’s a hit. But he was right there positioned for it and it turned into an easy out.”

Though Abreu’s diving attempt briefly brought the crowd to life, Lawrie said the play was made easier by the first baseman’s presence. He credited Abreu for the way he attacks the ball — “some first baseman will bail … he wants the ball,” Lawrie said.

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Lawrie spent last season playing for the A’s and knew Monday’s crowd was louder than most. Though the stadium featured a raucous atmosphere, Lawrie said it didn’t faze him — especially by that point in the game.

That made it all the easier for Lawrie to chill.

“It’s not like it was the first inning or anything,” Lawrie said.

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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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: