White Sox

Jeff Samardzija rocked as White Sox drop series opener to Cubs

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Jeff Samardzija rocked as White Sox drop series opener to Cubs

Jeff Samardzija’s offseason prospects aren’t very good right now.

A free agent at the conclusion of this season, Samardzija was rocked in a third straight start on Friday afternoon.

Samardzija allowed six earned runs, including three home runs in six innings as the White Sox lost to the Cubs, 6-5, in front of 36,386 at U.S. Cellular Field. Chris Coghlan homered twice and Anthony Rizzo hit another for the Cubs, who loudly celebrated both on and off the field as they won their eighth straight. Adam Eaton homered for the White Sox, who saw their three-game losing streak snapped.

“It hurts, man,” said Samardzija, who has a 12.91 ERA over his last three starts. “I take things personally. I enjoy having success. I enjoy doing well. But you have to understand that the work you’re doing is always good work. You keep working hard and keep trying to fix what you feel like you’re doing wrong. We got another one in four days, we’ll be out in Anaheim, and we’ll go out and attack them, another great team, and do our job.”

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Friday’s work was rarely easy if ever for Samardzija as he pitched for the first time against the team that selected him with the 149th overall pick of the 2006 draft.  

The first inning started poorly as Avisail Garcia botched Dexter Fowler’s leadoff single into a triple. Kyle Schwarber’s sac fly made it 1-0 but Samardzija put two more men on base before he escaped the jam with a strikeout.

Samardzija pitched a perfect second inning after the White Sox took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first on Garcia's two-run double. But he found trouble again in the third as Fowler doubled, Schwarber walked and Coghlan hammered a 2-1 slider out to right to put the Cubs back in the lead, 4-2.

The White Sox regained the lead 5-4 in the bottom of the fourth on Eaton’s two-run homer but Samardzija gave it right back. Coghlan tied the game with a solo homer with two outs in the fifth inning and Rizzo crushed another 413 feet to right to put the Cubs ahead 6-5.

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Samardzija has allowed 20 home runs this season.

“It's just getting too much in the middle of the plate,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “There are some good swings there late, especially with the lefties. Getting too much of the plate and I think that's something you can clean up. Work the corners. I know he loves throwing off-speed stuff and changing speeds and things like that, but you get that much of the plate and it can cost you, especially on warm days like this.”

Until they caught fire in the week before the trade deadline, it was all but expected the White Sox would offer a change of scenery and deal Samardzija to the highest bidder.

As he auditioned for contenders ahead of the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, Samardzija was fantastic, going 3-1 with a 2.27 ERA in five July starts. But a seven-game winning streak wiped out those plans as it put Rick Hahn in a spot where it would have been difficult to trade Samardzija, whose camp has been adamant all along he’s headed for free agency.

As of now, Samardzija’s free-agent appeal has taken a hit on two fronts.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Not only has he struggled recently — his ERA has risen from 3.94 to 4.78 the past three starts — but the White Sox can make him a qualifying offer if he elects not to sign a long-term deal with them, which means all but 10 teams with protected picks would have to surrender a first-rounder in order to sign Samardzija. Having the loss of a draft pick attached won’t eliminate all interested parties, but it could limit Samardzija’s market and ultimately his payday.

Samardzija can of course change his fortunes with a strong finish to the season. Even though he has allowed 22 runs — all earned — 23 hits and five home runs in his last 15 1/3 innings, Samardzija expects he’ll turn things around.

“It hasn’t been too kind to me, that’s for sure,” Samardzija said. “Like I said, the last few times; I went back and watched KC game, and then tonight. I feel great, I feel like my pitches are there. It’s just a couple swings of the bat here and there that are getting me, and in big situations. We need to keep doing what we’re doing, keep improving, and we’ll be fine. It’s just one of those little stretch runs in the season that you have to fight through and then before you know it, you’ll be on the other side of the coin.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Michael Kopech tells all about his past, present and future

The White Sox top pitching prospect sits down with Chuck Garfien for a revealing interview at spring training. Kopech says he almost quit the game after he got into a fight with a Red Sox minor league teammate in 2016. He goes in-depth about his desire to be great, why meditating makes him a better pitcher, his failed PED test in 2015, comparisons to Justin Verlander, possibly becoming the future ace of the White Sox and much more.

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

Why Michael Kopech almost quit baseball: Revelations from the future White Sox star

GLENDALE, Ariz. — A failed PED test. A 50-game suspension. A fight with a former teammate. A broken pitching hand.

It all blew up like that for Michael Kopech in one calendar year.

And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to him.

“There have been points where I wanted to quit baseball. There have been points where I wanted to stop trying,” Kopech said Thursday in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

This was the breaking point that almost ended Kopech’s career before it truly began but would eventually change his life for the better once the storms passed.

“Everything felt like it was on me at once, and it was tough because I had just gotten through the suspension, worked my butt off all offseason, came back to spring training in the best shape I had ever been in, and then broke my hand the first day of spring,” Kopech explained. “More than anything, I was frustrated and knew I wasn’t making anything better for myself and I was ready to get out of there.”

How long was he in this mode of possibly quitting baseball?

“Probably a couple weeks.”

The PED suspension in 2015 was for the stimulant Oxilofrine, which has been found in supplements which Kopech says he didn’t knowingly take.

“We do have certifications that we’re supposed to follow. We’re supposed to make sure that everything we take or put in our bodies is certified, and I probably wasn’t as safe as I should have been on that. I do take responsibility on that, and I regret it. But it’s part of the past and I did learn from it, so I can’t be too upset about it now and dwell on the past.”

The fight wasn’t only with Kopech’s teammate. It was also with his roommate.  

“It was a good friend of mine I was trying to help out. Things went south and he took a couple swings at me and I took one swing back. It just happened to not be a very good punch,” Kopech said. “I’ve accepted that I messed up. He accepted it as well. I’m open about it because it’s in the past and I’ve learned from it. But I’m not too proud to say I made a mistake. Fortunately, he’s still with the Red Sox and doing well over there. I think it didn’t alter our careers negatively, but maybe we both matured quite a bit from it and somehow, someway altered it positively. He’s still one of my good buddies.”

To say that Kopech’s dream is to make the major leagues would be limiting. He has a strong desire not only to be great but to be one of the all-time greats.

You can’t always pinpoint where a person’s ambition comes from. Kopech thinks it was from his torturous year as a nomad, out of baseball with a broken hand and a broken soul.

“Everybody talks about that itch to get back to spring training. When you have that for 12 straight months, it just grows and grows and grows,” Kopech said. “There’s going to be adversity coming your way in baseball. Learning from the adversity off the field is one of the tougher things I’ve ever had to do. Having all that come at once forced me to learn from it. I probably was a little stubborn and hard-headed at first, but taking a year off baseball, all you have time to do is think, anyway. I put myself in much better positions, became a lot more mindful about the game, and I feel like it has a lot to do with who I am today.”

Partly what changed him, and frankly might have saved him, was learning how to meditate. It’s a practice he learned from Red Sox mental performance coach Justin Su’a soon after the fateful fight with his teammate.

“It put me in a mental state that I never experienced. It’s almost like a flow state when I pitch but a lot calmer, so I got hooked on meditating and it took me away from the negativity of all that,” Kopech said. “I realized that my mind is my most powerful tool. I got addicted to this feeling that came from me being a more mindful athlete rather than just a powerful athlete or an athlete that throws 100 miles per hour. It took me away from being this guy that’s one dimensional to the outside public and made me have a lot more self value than Michael Kopech the baseball player.”

Kopech meditates before every start. Where exactly?

“For the most part, I’ll go find a closet or empty room somewhere in the stadium where I can zone out,” he said. “But even if it’s close to the clubhouse and I hear a little chatter that’s fine because the type of meditating I do focuses a little on background noise and helps my mind get to the place where I need it to get.”

It’s become such a powerful tool, he believes it gives him a distinct advantage over the hitter when he's on the mound.

“It’s tapping into this part of your mind that most people can’t dive into, and what’s funny is pitching is like cheating to me. When I pitch, the first batter I see with the stadium full of people, I’m in that state. Most people have to work their whole lives to feel that type of dopamine rush. Whatever it is actually, I don’t know exactly what it is, but I know the feeling and I get it instantly when I take the mound. For me, that’s why I love the game because it makes me feel alive.”

It's a purpose and passion that has been reborn. Living proof that Kopech's mind is maybe all that matters.