White Sox

Confidence scheme: White Sox hope to convince Dan Jennings he's ready

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Confidence scheme: White Sox hope to convince Dan Jennings he's ready

They believe he has the proper tools and now its up to the White Sox to convince Dan Jennings he’s ready for primetime.

When they acquired the left-hander from the Miami Marlins in December, the White Sox could see the makings of a potential key piece to their bullpen -- albeit an untested one. Though Jennings entered the season with a 2.43 career ERA, he’s out of minor league options and only appeared in critical spots in 20 percent of his appearances.

While they made a few minor mechanical adjustments this spring and he’s added a two-seam fastball, the White Sox believe the biggest improvement would be improved confidence. The way manager Robin Ventura has employed Jennings in the first week -- twice in big spots -- has begun to give Jennings faith he’s the man for the job.

“It’s a great feeling knowing a manager can go to you in that situation and give him another option down there and bridge the gap,” Jennings said. “Knowing he has that confidence to give me the ball, it extends to me that confidence to go out there and do the job.”

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His 8.10 ERA might not indicate it, but Jennings has done exactly what the White Sox have asked in his three appearances this season.

On Sunday, he induced an inning-ending double play in the seventh from Oswaldo Arcia.

Jennings’ other big spot was Opening Day with the White Sox down three runs. He walked two (one intentionally), but Jennings also retired Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer and induced a potential inning-ending grounder off Alex Gordon’s bat only for his middle infielders to misplay it into a two-run single. Instead of a scoreless inning, Jennings allowed three earned runs.

But there’s more than enough there for him to build off of, said teammate and throwing partner Zach Duke.

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“I don't think Dan gives himself enough credit,” Duke said. “If you look at his track record in the big leagues, it's really good.

“He probably feels the way he does because he kind of fell victim to the business of baseball. He's probably one of the only guys who had options so he got shuffled between Triple-A and the big leagues no matter what his numbers were.

“He works his tail off, he's not complacent, he doesn't feel like he's good enough yet, which is great. But he's really good.”

Tall and athletic with a consistent 92-mph fastball, the White Sox think enough of Jennings that they traded Andre Rienzo to Miami in exchange. Pitching coach Don Cooper said the only mechanical change he’s made is to keep Jennings taller in his delivery.

Cooper likes Jennings’ slider and the addition of the two-seam fastball, a pitch developed this offseason and with which he has grown comfortable.

He wants Jennings to improve upon his career mark of 4.1 walks per nine innings and to become more effectively against lefties, who hit .291/.358/.403 against him while righties have a .237/.326/.384 slash.

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But with the pieces in place, Cooper thinks those goals are attainable.

“We’re going to try to see if we can take him further,” Cooper said. “He’s got the equipment.

“Any time you can get a lefty that’s throwing 92, 93 with a good shape to the breaking ball and all he needs is more consistent strikes, well I think we’ve been OK getting guys like that and doing things with them.

“We’re fortunate to get an arm like that.”

Jennings feels just as good about his situation with the White Sox. While he’s not in position to take Duke’s setup role just yet, Jennings believes he’ll have plenty of chances to work in big spots. He intends to build the trust of Ventura and Cooper “over time,” he said.

“For me it's having confidence both ways -- knowing they have confidence in me and having me have confidence in myself, knowing they can put me out there in any situation and I'll go get people out,” Jennings said. “If they feel good about me that goes a long way because all of a sudden they can put me in those situations. As I long as I do my job the rest will take care of itself.”

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: