White Sox

Chris Sale strikes out 11 as White Sox top Brewers

5-12-chris-sale.png

Chris Sale strikes out 11 as White Sox top Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Chris Sale delivered his best performance of the season Tuesday night when the White Sox needed it most.

With the bullpen fried because of poor team starting pitching and a series on the line, Sale struck out 11 batters as the White Sox edged the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 in front of 26,935 at Miller Park.

The left-hander allowed three hits over eight innings and Alexei Ramirez made it count with a go-ahead sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth as the White Sox improved to 3-12 on the road. The victory -- the team’s fifth in eight games -- snapped a seven-game road-losing streak that dated back to April 18 in Detroit.

“It’s nice to get some normalcy and see some guys falling into place and we are playing well,” Sale said. “We are scoring runs and we are scoring runs late coming back on teams. Bullpen has been nails. So it’s on the starters basically to get it to them and keep less runs on the board than the other team.”

[MORE SOX: White Sox officially announce Carlos Rodon is part of rotation]

White Sox starting pitchers entered Tuesday with an average of 5.53 innings per start this season. While their 160 1/3 innings can partly be attributed to fewer games played, the rotation’s struggles haven’t been exaggerated. The team’s 5.16 ERA from its starters ranked 26th among 30 teams and Sale has contributed, lasting a career low three innings against the Minnesota Twins on April 30 -- his second consecutive non-quality start.

But fresh off a five-game suspension, Sale looked like a new man. Perhaps heeding the advice of pitching coach Don Cooper, who thought Sale had been trying to do too much, the left-hander reduced his velocity and painted the strike zone.

Sale hit his spots much more frequently, throwing strikes on 77 of 110 pitches. With the bullpen taxed, Sale was economical in the late innings, throwing 10 pitches in the seventh.

“It’s good for Chris in particular coming off a couple tough starts not really feeling that well to even have an opportunity to go that deep in a game against a team that’s swinging the bats pretty well right now,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “That does a lot for him and helps out the bullpen, too.”

Sale wasn’t without his mistakes as Elian Herrera crushed a 2-2 changeup in the fifth for a game-tying solo homer. But from there, Sale retired 12 of 13, including striking out the side in the sixth. He issued his only walk with two outs in the eighth inning, but struck out Jean Segura, who tripled in the first inning and scored. Sale extended his franchise-record to 19 games with double-digit strikeout performances.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your White Sox gear here]

The White Sox were slow to start against Brewers pitcher Mike Fiers, who was perfect through four innings. But Ramirez and Flowers had back-to-back doubles to start the fifth inning to tie the game and Micah Johnson’s RBI single gave the White Sox a 2-1 lead.

Avisail Garcia singled in between walks of Jose Abreu and Conor Gillaspie to set up Ramirez in the go-ahead rally in the eighth. Abreu singled in an insurance run in the ninth.

David Robertson struck out two to convert his sixth save in seven tries. But aside from Robertson, a bullpen largely overused of late got a night off courtesy of Sale.

“It was big,” manager Robin Ventura said. “He’s been trying to find it and get a groove going. It didn't start off that well. They got the triple there and got on the board first but we clawed back and after that I thought he really settled down and had command of a lot of stuff. He was throwing strikes, getting them to swing early.

“This is just a little more vintage of what you would expect out of him.”

 

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

hahn-pod.jpg
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: