White Sox

Healthy Avisail Garcia makes difference in White Sox lineup

avisail-garcia-white-sox-making-a-difference-5-17-15.png

Healthy Avisail Garcia makes difference in White Sox lineup

OAKLAND — While it sounds like Avisail Garcia hasn’t entirely stuck to a strict diet of fish and salad, the White Sox will probably let it slide.

Given what Garcia has produced this weekend and the season overall, the White Sox need not worry if their slimmed-down outfielder helps himself to an occasional plate or two of chicken during the postgame.

Garcia — who lost 15 pounds in the offseason adhering to the diet — had three more hits, including a massive two-run home run in Sunday’s 7-3 White Sox win over the Oakland A’s.

He has hits in 19 of his last 21 contests and is hitting .346/.380/.492 with four homers, 17 RBIs and 20 runs in 33 games. Garcia’s presence in the middle of the order has given the White Sox something they sorely lacked in 2014 when he played only 46 games because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

“It’s a huge difference,” first baseman Jose Abreu said through an interpreter. “He’s capable of showing what he can do in the field. He’s a very, very talented player. He has five tools, and he has shown it. It’s good for us, because he made us a better team.”

Garcia’s effort Sunday was his sixth multi-hit contest in eight games. With 45 hits this season, Garcia already has surpassed last season’s hit total (42) in 13 fewer games.

[MORE: White Sox complete sweep of A's with four-run victory]

Courtesy of a Sunday’s ninth-inning homer, Garcia had a critical hit in each game as the White Sox completed their first sweep in Oakland since May 16-18, 1997 when he was a month shy of his sixth birthday.

Garcia had a go-ahead, two-run double Friday to cap a five-run rally and a game-tying two-run single on Saturday. The White Sox believe with experience Garcia will continue to develop, especially in the power department, though manager Robin Ventura doesn’t like the comparisons to former teammate Miguel Cabrera.

“That’s unfair,” Ventura said. “That’s unfair. I think that’ll be something that’ll happen in his game (home runs), I think when he understands his swing a little bit better and what needs to bet here. But any time guys are compared to Miggy it’s unfair. I would stay away from that one, that’s how good Miggy is. I would hope for him to be like that, but for people to compare him like that is really a tribute to him.”

Garcia has been at his best lately by staying up the middle in his approach. On Saturday, Garcia fell behind in the count to pitcher Jesse Chavez 0-2 before he worked it full and singled to center with the bases loaded.

Garcia said his focus has been to work counts and see a lot of pitches.

[RELATED: Marcus Semien's advice for Micah Johnson: Work hard]

“I have a pretty good idea what’s going happen, so I’m just working hard,” Garcia said. “You have to be patient. Sometimes that’s going to happen. Sometimes you’re going to strike out. Sometimes you’re going to homer. Sometimes you’re going to hit a base hit. You have to be patient. You just have to focus on the game and try to do your best.”

Garcia’s hard offseason work resulted in a fitter version.

When he unexpectedly returned to the field last August, Garcia was a little heavier than he wanted to be because of his inactivity from April through mid-June following surgery. But through his diet and exercise, Garcia arrived at SoxFest in January in great shape and he’s looked the part with the ability to speed across the outfield and around the bases.

Ventura’s just as impressed with the presence Garcia has provided behind Abreu and Adam LaRoche, even starting as the cleanup hitter Sunday with left-hander Scott Kazmir starting.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

“Some teams might focus a little bit on Jose and not that you forget about Avi ,but he’s lurking there,” Ventura said. “He swings the bat real nice. Has a nice approach inside out. When he gets it, it’s gonna go.

“Not too many people can hit it that way right handed.”

Few postgame spreads in the majors offer fish. Most clubhouse meals favor steak, chicken and pasta. Even though he’s strayed a bit, Garcia figures it’s more fuel for the final 128 games.

“Sometimes I eat chicken because you’ve got to eat sometimes heavy,” Garcia said with a laugh. “Because this game is a long season, and you’re not going to eat always fish.”

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: