White Sox

Erik Johnson 'put himself in the running' for White Sox rotation for 2016

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Erik Johnson 'put himself in the running' for White Sox rotation for 2016

In his last start of the season, Erik Johnson made another strong case for a rotation spot in 2016.

Outside of one mistake, the right-hander picked apart the Tigers lineup over 6 1/3 innings, allowing just two runs in the White Sox 4-3 win on Saturday in front of 17,772 fans at U.S. Cellular Field.

[MORE: Unusual uncertainty surrounds Alexei Ramirez heading into offseason] 

The Sox got going early when Adam Eaton tallied a leadoff single and a stolen base off starter Justin Verlander in the first inning. Melky Cabrera knocked a double to right two batters later to drive in Eaton, who picked up his 98th run of the season. 

Johnson did a nice job of scattering four hits over his 6 1/3 innings of work. His biggest mistake, however, came in the sixth inning when Miguel Cabrera got ahold of a pitch and hit it just out of the reach of Eaton in right center for his 18th home run of the season. 

If there has been an issue with Johnson this year in the majors, it’s that he’s been susceptible to the long ball. In his six starts this year, he’s given up eight home runs. 

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said after the win that he's not concerned with Johnson's home run numbers.

"These are big league hitters," Ventura said. "Tonight it was Miguel Cabrera, which he's not the only guy. For him, he battled back right after that. If you give one up to Miggy, I think he falls into a long line."

Alexei Ramirez tied up the game in the bottom of the sixth by dropping a double down the right field line to score Trayce Thompson.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!] 

James McCann, who was Chris Sale’s 270th strikeout victim of the season on Friday, brought in a run with a pinch-hit RBI double in the ninth off of Dan Jennings. 

In the bottom of the frame, J.B. Shuck matched McCann's pinch-hit heroics with his own RBI double to drive in Avisail Garcia to tie the game. 

Leury Garcia drove in Shuck shortly after with a single to send the South Siders home as walkoff winners.

"It was awesome," Garcia said. "It was fun. I was ready for the opportunity to hit it and put the ball in play and see what happens."

While Ventura didn't name Johnson as a member of the 2016 rotation, he was impressed with how Johnson handled his third stint in the majors.

"He's come back and put himself in the running when we go to spring training," Ventura said. "You see a guy that's worked his way back. He went through had a nice minor league season, has come back up here and been pretty reliable of putting him in there and getting us in position to win a game."

Johnson, who won Most Valuable Pitcher in the International League this year, finished 2015 (3-1, 3.34 ERA over 35 innings) much stronger than he started 2014, where he only lasted five starts before being sent back down. The right-hander picked up his fourth quality start of the year on Saturday and provides the team with some balance in a left-handed dominated staff going forward. Johnson felt like he achieved his goal of getting better every start and made sure management knew that he has plans of hanging out in Chicago permanently. 

"For me, it's known that I want to pitch up here," Johnson said. "This is where I want to be. This is where I want to compete."

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: