White Sox

In a groove, Mat Latos solidifying White Sox rotation

In a groove, Mat Latos solidifying White Sox rotation

A precarious situation faced Mat Latos and the White Sox on Sunday afternoon. The Texas Rangers had runners on first and third with one out, and their lineup about to turn back over to the top of the order. Up two, manager Robin Ventura decided to keep the 28-year-old Latos in the game instead of turning to reliever Zach Duke.

Rangers left fielder Ryan Rua hit a smash up the middle that Latos snared and fired to second, where shortstop Tyler Saladino was waiting to sling the ball over to first base for an inning-ending double play. Latos exited with a massive fist pump, capping another strong outing for the right-hander the White Sox signed to a one-year, $3 million deal before spring training.

Latos has won all four starts he’s made this season and has a sparkling 0.74 ERA. Opponents have a .167 batting average on balls in play against him, which isn’t sustainable. He’s stranded 97 percent of the baserunners that’ve reached against him; Zack Greinke led the major leagues with an 86.5 percent strand rate in 2015. Eventually, more runners will get on base, and more of them will come around to score.

But after dealing with a rash of injuries over the last two seasons, Latos has pitched impressively from the back end of the White Sox rotation.

“Next time he starts there’s going to be some guys on, too,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “So it’s just a matter of making your pitch at the moment you need it, and he did that today.

From a results perspective, Latos’ spring was a disaster. He allowed 16 runs (15 earned) in 13 innings with nine strikeouts, six walks and two home runs. But sometimes, things click when the games start mattering.

“Spring Training and the season are two different things, or at least it’s the way I look at it,” Latos said. “I’ve said time and time again it only takes one pitch, one bullpen session, for everything just to click. (Pitching coach) Don Cooper and I put a plan together every time I grab a baseball. Every day I pick a baseball up, he has a plan for me.

“And you take that to heart. You want to make it work. We’ve incorporated everything we did in Spring Training and still what we are doing now into every game and everything has been clicking. I’ve been grateful and fortunate. Offense has picked me up, swung the bat really well on days that I’ve pitched. I’ve been able to keep zeroes on the board, and the defense has shown up behind me.”

Latos allowed one run in six innings against Texas, and his ERA actually went up because of it, from 0.49 to 0.74. His fastball, according to FanGraphs, is averaging 89.5 miles per hour, easily the lowest velocity of his career.

But as long as he’s hitting his spots with it and changing speeds, he’s shown early on he can consistently get outs. A strong rapport with Navarro has given Latos a boost, too.

“There are times where I’ve been on the mound and I’m looking at him going, 'Why are we throwing this pitch right here?'” Latos said. “But I’m still throwing it and still getting outs. I don’t want to say questioning him. But it’s more of the situation, maybe I would have gone something different but it’s still getting outs. That to me shows a guy who really knows how to call the game.”

The word Ventura used over and over again when talking about Latos was confidence. Not only is Latos pitching with confidence, the team has confidence in him, and he has confidence in the defense behind him.

And as long as Latos keeps opposing offenses off the board, that confidence won’t go away.

“This guy is confident right now in being able to throw strikes and put it where he wants to,” Ventura said. “If you can get guys swinging and not really getting good looks at you, the one that he gave up, that’s the one that’ll get you every once in a while. But for the most part, he’s not giving people good looks.”

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.”