White Sox

Flowers a not-so-invisible hand pushing Chris Sale’s success

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Flowers a not-so-invisible hand pushing Chris Sale’s success

ST. LOUIS — As Chris Sale bulldozed his way to tying a major league record over his last eight starts, there’s something he hasn’t done much, if at all.

Shake off catcher Tyler Flowers.

Sale and Flowers have as good a working pitcher-catcher relationship as you’ll find in baseball. Whatever Flowers calls, Sale throws. If an adjustment needs to be made during a game, Flowers will make it and Sale will trust it.

That happened Tuesday night when Sale didn’t have good command of the inner third of the plate. Flowers made the adjustment and called for more two-seamer fastballs away to a righty-heavy lineup and mixed in more sliders than usual — Sale threw 24 percent of the time, up about eight percent from his season average.

The result: Eight innings of one-run ball with 12 strikeouts — all swinging — giving him eight consecutive games with double-digit strikeouts to tie Pedro Martinez’s major league record set in 1999.

“We both trust each other entirely,” Flowers, who's caught all 15 of Sale's starts this season, said. “It just allows him to stay focused on whatever pitch, executing that and not worrying about the preparation as far as pitch sequences and those kind of things. He leaves that in my hands, and I kind of enjoy that aspect of the preparation to help him have success and give us a chance to win.”

As Sale said after a start earlier last month: “Just follow Flow, whatever he’s got, that’s what I’m throwing.”

[RELATED: White Sox return Dan Jennings to bullpen mix]

The Sale-Flowers relationship is a subtle aspect to the White Sox ace’s success over the last few seasons. The pair worked together during Sale’s brief stint in Triple-A in 2010 and have formed the White Sox battery 74 times, teaming up to limit hitters to a .212 batting average and .591 OPS. In 446 2/3 innings with Flowers behind the plate, Sale has 538 strikeouts.

Those on-the-fly adjustments Flowers is able to make on an inning-by-inning, batter-by-batter, pitch-by-pitch basis have helped keep Sale effective even if he doesn’t have his best stuff or command.

“He’s caught him enough and he can tell if one pitch isn’t as sharp as another,” manager Robin Ventura said. “There is trust when he puts down down different fingers that there is a reason for that. They get along well. They’re in sync, he doesn’t spend much time shaking off and standing out there.”

Ventura said Sale’s preferred rhythm is similar to the one former White Sox starter Mark Buehrle is known for — get the ball, get on the mound and throw it quickly. Having a strong trust in Flowers to call the right pitch in the right location helps Sale find that rhythm and not overthink things.

[MORE: More Rodon could mean more rest for Chris Sale]

The results, especially in 2015, have been staggering. If Sale makes 17 more starts at his current pace he’ll finish the season with 301 strikeouts, a total which hasn’t been reached by a pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2002. And if Sale racks up 10 or more strikeouts in his next start — which will be either Sunday or Monday next week — he’ll set a major league single season record for most consecutive starts with double digit strikeouts.

The relationship between pitcher and catcher didn’t develop immediately, but it did develop quickly. And it’s become an important part of Sale’s dominance.

“It’s easier for pitchers to trust in a guy when they have success, and it’s easier for me to have success with him when he can execute, and we have some weapons to work with,” Flowers said. “So it kind of goes hand-in-hand where he gave me a shot to run the game, to run an inning, to run the next inning with some success and it just kind of snowballed into where we’re at today.”

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

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USA TODAY

White Sox prospect Micker Adolfo sidelined with elbow injuries

PHOENIX, Ariz. — One of the White Sox prized prospects will be on the shelf for a little while.

Outfielder Micker Adolfo has a sprained UCL in his right elbow and a strained flexor tendon that could require surgery. He could avoid surgery, though he could be sidelined for at least six weeks.

Though he hasn’t received the same high rankings and media attention as fellow outfield prospects Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, Adolfo is considered a part of the White Sox promising future. He’s said to have the best outfield arm in the White Sox system.

Adolfo had a breakout season in 2017, slashing .264/.331/.453 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs in 112 games with Class A Kannapolis.

Adolfo, along with Jimenez and Robert, has been generating buzz at White Sox camp in Glendale, with a crowd forming whenever the trio takes batting practice. Earlier this week, the three described their conversation dreaming about playing together in the same outfield for a contending White Sox team in the future.

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

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AP

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some teams have it easy, with their 25-man rosters seemingly locked into place before spring training games even start.

The White Sox actually have a lot more locked-down spots than you might think for a rebuilding team, but this spring remains pretty important for a few guys.

The starting rotation figures to be set, with James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer the starting five. Carlos Rodon, of course, owns one of those spots once he returns from injury. But the date of that return remains a mystery.

From this observer’s viewpoint, eight of the everyday nine position players seem to be figured out, too: Welington Castillo behind the plate, Jose Abreu at first base, Yoan Moncada at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yolmer Sanchez at third base, Nicky Delmonico in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Matt Davidson as the designated hitter. More on the omission of a starting center fielder in a bit.

Omar Narvaez would be a logical pick to back up Castillo at catcher, and Tyler Saladino is really the lone reserve infielder with big league experience, not to mention he’s a versatile player that can play anywhere on the infield.

Leury Garcia also figures to be a lock for this 25-man roster. But will he be the everyday center fielder, as he was for a spell last season? He played 51 games in center in 2017 but battled injuries throughout the year. I think Leury Garcia will end up the starting center fielder when the season begins because of his bat. His .270/.316/.423 slash line isn’t going to make anyone do cartwheels, but it’s better than the offensive struggles of Adam Engel, who started 91 games in center in 2017 and slashed .166/.235/.282. Engel would still be a solid inclusion on the bench because of his superb defense, but to create that big a hole in the everyday lineup is tough.

How could that position-player group change? Keep your eyes in center field, where there are a couple other guys who could force their way into a roster spot this spring: Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell. Tilson has had a tremendous amount of trouble staying on the field since coming over to the White Sox in a 2016 deadline deal, but that hasn’t dampened the White Sox hopes for him. And Cordell got name-dropped by general manager Rick Hahn during SoxFest, when the GM said he’s received multiple calls about Cordell since acquiring him last summer. Cordell put up good numbers at the Triple-A level prior to a significant injury last year.

But the main battles figure to be in the bullpen. At times this winter, as the White Sox kept adding players to that relief corps mix, that the whole thing seemed wide open. But when you think about it, maybe there are only one or two open spots.

You’d have to think these guys are pretty safe bets to make the team: Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Though Hector Santiago was just recently acquired on a minor league deal, he’s really the only long man of the group, and he could sub in if there’s an injury to a starting pitcher. That leaves two spots between the group of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira — not to mention guys signed to minor league deals like Xavier Cedeno, Jeanmar Gomez and Bruce Rondon.

Bummer had a 4.50 ERA in 30 big league games last year. Farquhar had a 4.40 ERA in 15 games. Vieira has gotten attention as a flame-thrower, but he’s got just one big league game under his belt, something that might or might not matter to the rebuilding White Sox. Guys like Gomez, who has 40 career saves including 37 just two years ago, and Rondon, who had multiple shots at the Detroit Tigers’ closing job in the past, could vault themselves into the mix as potential midseason trade candidates.

Then there's the question of which of those guys will be Rick Renteria's closer. Minaya had closing duties after most of the bullpen was traded away last summer. He picked up nine saves and posted a 4.11 ERA in his final 17 appearances of the campaign. Look to Soria, though, a veteran with plenty of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. If he's given the opportunity to close and succeeds, he could fetch an intriguing return package in a potential deadline deal.

But now it's game time in Arizona.

“The fun part of playing the game of baseball is playing the game of baseball," Renteria said earlier this week. "We prepare. I think they all enjoy what they’re doing in terms of their preparation. They take it seriously, they focus. But ultimately like everything that we do in life, I guess it’s a test. And the games are a test for us on a daily basis. And how we are able to evaluate them and take advantage of the opportunities that we have to see them in a real game situation is certainly helpful for us.”