White Sox

Hot start propels White Sox past A's in season opener

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Hot start propels White Sox past A's in season opener

OAKLAND, Calif. — The 4-3 White Sox victory over the Oakland A’s on Monday night wasn’t without its warts.

They ran into outs on the bases, failed to get a sac bunt down and consecutive relief pitchers issued leadoff walks late in a one-run contest. But it was what the White Sox did around those plays that had them victorious instead of lamenting a close loss.

Chris Sale overcame a shaky early inning and took advantage of four early runs before his defense and bullpen did just enough to secure a victory. Sale struck out eight in seven innings and David Robertson pitched a scoreless ninth for his first save.

“It wasn’t pretty,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “Good to get this one out of the way.

“We got a win, and we’ll take it.”

Given Sale nearly surrendered a 4-0 lead in the third, the White Sox have to be pleased to have pulled this one out.

Making his third Opening Day start in four seasons, Sale appeared to entirely lose his rhythm in a 34-pitch frame. He retired the first seven batters he faced before yielding a one-out infield single to Stephen Vogt and Oakland’s offense woke up.

Sale said he tried to do too much and walked Marcus Semien. One out later, Jed Lowrie lined a 96-mph fastball up and away into right field for a two-run single to make it a 4-2 game.

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Sale missed high with several fastballs in the inning. Josh Reddick and Danny Valencia followed with singles, the latter driving in another run to make it 4-3. But Sale struck out Khris Davis to strand runners on the corners and leave Billy Butler — who doubled twice — in the on-deck circle.

“Held it together and thankfully we got out of it,” Sale said. “I don’t know if I was overthrowing. Maybe just trying to do a little too much. That’s a tough team. This is a great atmosphere, really.

“They feed off of it. You just have to take that into consideration and try to not get overwhelmed.”

The sellout crowd had more to cheer in the eighth and ninth innings. Jake Petricka took over for Sale — who allowed three earned runs and seven hits in seven innings — and walked Lowrie.

But Zach Duke retired Josh Reddick on a comebacker and Nate Jones got two batters, including a strikeout of Davis to strand the tying run at second.

Robertson also started his inning with a walk of the speedy Coco Crisp. But he bounced back with a strikeout of Chris Coghlan and Brett Lawrie ended the game with a nice sliding stop in right field, throwing out Yonder Alonso at first with Robertson on the cover.

The White Sox had a handful of nice defensive efforts. Jose Abreu smothered two grounders at first, Sale made a nice play on a comebacker in the fifth and catcher Dioner Navarro picked off Billy Burns at first base to end the seventh inning.

“We put the preparation in spring training, work hard and we put ourselves in a position to win and it showed tonight,” said leadoff man Adam Eaton. “We’ll continue to believe in our preparation and allow our preparation to instill confidence in everybody and play a good brand of baseball.”

Sale dominated Oakland’s offense on both sides of the third inning.

He blew 97-mph fastballs by Lowrie and Davis in the first two innings for strikeouts. And after Butler opened the fourth with a double, Sale retired 11 of the last 12 he faced.

That made a four-run rally in the third hold up.

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Eaton jump-started the offense against Oakland replacement starter Rich Hill.

With a man on third, Eaton — who didn’t have an RBI until his 109th plate appearance last season — tripled to deep center to make it 1-0.

Jimmy Rollins followed Eaton with a bloop RBI single to right to give the White Sox a two-run cushion. He advanced to third on Abreu’s double and both scored on a two-out error by first baseman Mark Canha.

But that was all the White Sox would get.

Oakland relievers retired 11 straight White Sox hitters into the seventh. Austin Jackson, who scored on the triple, and Eaton singled. But reliever John Axford won an 11-pitch battle against Abreu to strand the runners.

The White Sox didn’t help themselves on the bases, either.

Eaton was picked off in the first inning after Hill hit him with a pitch (the A’s starter also hit Abreu in the frame).

Navarro popped out on a ninth-inning bunt attempt after Lawrie led off with a single. Lawrie was then picked off by Sean Doolittle to end the ninth.

But the White Sox prevailed anyway and that’s plenty for Sale and Ventura.

“It’s like the first strike of the game, once you get the first strike of the game, once you get the first win of the year, you kind of exhale a little bit and just go from there,” Sale said. “Business as usual.”

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: