White Sox

Carlos Rodon shines again as White Sox top Indians

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Carlos Rodon shines again as White Sox top Indians

Carlos Rodon continues to look like he’ll be the one to fill the No. 2 spot in the 2016 White Sox rotation.

The rookie left-hander put together another fantastic outing on Tuesday night as he worked out of early trouble en route to seven strong innings. Rodon struck out eight and allowed one run and five hits and Rob Brantly and Jose Abreu homered as the White Sox beat the Cleveland Indians 7-4 at U.S. Cellular Field. Trayce Thompson also singled twice, walked and drove in two runs in support of Rodon’s sixth straight quality start.

“He always seems to come back and have a little more,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “And teams that have seen him for the second time, I think that's the impressive thing, he's still able to get at it.”

In his last six starts, Rodon has lowered his earned-run average from 5.00 to 3.94.

All it has taken him to accomplish the reduction is a stretch in which he has allowed 10 runs (eight earned), 27 hits with 15 walks and 41 strikeouts in 41 innings (1.76 ERA).

[SHOP: Buy a Carlos Rodon jersey]

Several keys to Rodon’s success are improved command and feel for his pitches, which has led to a lowered walk rate. Whereas he walked an average of 5.32 batters per nine over his first 84 2/3 innings, Rodon has lowered his average to 3.29 in the past 41 innings.

Over the first few months of his career, Rodon often walked himself into trouble. On Tuesday, he didn’t issue a walk until his sixth inning when he led 5-0.

“For him to do this as quickly as he has is the impressive part,” Ventura said. “He didn't have too many innings in the minor leagues. To be able to come up here and do this is impressive.”

Catcher Rob Brantly is impressed with the difference in Rodon’s mound presence. Brantly last caught Rodon in spring training and said the difference is remarkable.

“It’s light out,” Brantly said. “It’s a tough guy to face right there, I’m glad I’m just on the receiving end of it. But he came out with some great stuff today and really did a great job shutting them down.”

Rodon’s defense provided him with a huge lift in the second inning and then he was off to the races.

[ALSO: Ventura 'absolutely' wants to return to Sox in 2016]

With two on base via singles, Rodon’s inning was extended on a two-out error by Mike Olt. But Rodon got Jason Kipnis to hit a grounder to second and Carlos Sanchez made a fantastic play to strand the bases loaded.

“I thought that ball was getting through there and all of I sudden I see Carlos picking up that play and making it look easy,” Rodon said. “Hats off to him.”

Rodon made it look just as simple after that as retired 16 of the last 19 batters he faced.

Cleveland didn’t score until the fifth inning and by that time Rodon already had a five-run lead.

Rodon’s development is significant for next season as the White Sox figure to have at least one opening in the rotation. Jeff Samardzija is headed for free agency, which likely leaves the White Sox with a vacancy near the front of the rotation. The team may also consider trading Jose Quintana, something that would be made easier by Rodon’s ascent.

What has to boost the team’s confidence is how Rodon has handled himself as his innings have increased. Rodon has pitched 135 2/3 innings this season between the White Sox and Charlotte. Prior to this, he threw 132 1/3 innings in his sophomore year at North Carolina State with some extra work for Team USA that summer.

[MORE: Micah Johnson promoted from Triple-A]

Last season, Rodon finished with 123 1/3 innings between NC State and the minors.

“I feel strong for the firsttime playing 162 games and playing for this long,” Rodon said. “It’s actually real fun. I’m enjoying it. It is a grind, but I enjoy every minute of it, coming into this clubhouse and hanging out with these guys and play baseball.

“It is nice, to do that (many innings in) year and pretty soon you’ll be looking at 200 innings and I'll be able to do that for them.”

Brantly got Rodon headed in the right direction with a three-run homer in the second inning. Abreu homered off Carlos Carrasco in the second inning and added an RBI single in the fifth to make it 5-0.

Thompson, who singled and walked in his first two trips, singled in two more in the seventh inning to put the White Sox ahead by six runs.

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: