White Sox

James Shields takes step in right direction, but White Sox still need more

James Shields takes step in right direction, but White Sox still need more

BOSTON — James Shields took a step toward turning his season around, though there’s still plenty of room to improve. 

The 34-year-old right-hander, who entered the day with a 21.81 ERA in three starts since being acquired from the San Diego Padres, allowed three runs over five innings in the White Sox 8-7 extra-innings loss to the Boston Red Sox Thursday afternoon at Fenway Park. 

While it wasn’t an unmitigated disaster like his previous starts against the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, Shields only lasted five innings and issued more walks (four) than he had strikeouts (three). Still, he was able to keep the White Sox in the game — and left with a lead — which represents a step in the right direction. 

“Obviously my last three outings weren’t very good, so it’s definitely a positive,” Shields said. “I’ve been around the game a while, I’ve got a lot more in the tank. Body feels great, so we’ll move forward.”

Shields’ abbreviated outing, though, forced the White Sox to burn relievers Matt Albers (who hit a batter and gave up two hits) and Dan Jennings (who threw a scoreless inning) early. And with those two guys used, and reliable right-handers Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam on the disabled list, manager Robin Ventura turned to rookie Chris Beck in the seventh. 

Beck avoided a meltdown but allowed a run. While Nate Jones ultimately gave up the game-tying run in the eighth, having to cover a dozen outs proved to be a difficult task. 

“We were getting a little short today,” manager Robin Ventura said. “We didn’t have (Zach) Duke out there to be able to come in. We were trying to patch it together. These guys have been used a lot, so we knew we couldn’t necessarily go four outs with Jonesy or (David) Robertson. We were a little thin.”

Shields was generally better at getting ahead in the count, and held Boston scoreless through his first four innings. But after striking out Christian Vasquez and getting Marco Hernandez to ground out to begin the fifth, the Red Sox lineup turned over to face Shields for the third time. Mookie Betts’ single was followed by a Dustin Pedroia RBI double, though Xander Bogaerts popped out to end the inning. 

Shields issued walks to David Ortiz — he thought his 1-2 slow curveball was a strike, though — and Ryan LaMarre before being pulled with no outs in the sixth. 

“He was playing more in the strike zone early on in the at-bat than in previous starts,” Avila said. “Throughout the innings that he pitched there were times where he kinda got out of himself a little bit and rushed a little bit but he was able to make the adjustment much quicker than he did in his previous outings. A good start for him, pitched well, used everything. Was able to go both sides of the plate with a good mix of his pitches. Those are the types of starts that I’ve seen quite a bit of him make and would expect to make.”

Anything better than a figurative fireworks show would’ve been an improvement, and while Thursday wasn’t vintage Shields, it did represent a step in the right direction. 

“Overall it was just me trying to relax and not trying to do too much for my new team,” Shields said. “I felt okay today. But there’s always room for improvement and I’m going to try to get better next time.” 

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.”