White Sox

'Long road' leads Nate Jones back to White Sox

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'Long road' leads Nate Jones back to White Sox

After Nate Jones spoke to reporters Wednesday his manager greeted him with a big pat on the back, a handshake and a “Hello, Nate.”

Sixteen months after he last pitched in the majors and just over a year removed from reconstructive elbow surgery, Jones is back with the White Sox.

Jones was activated off the 60-day disabled list and Daniel Webb has been placed on the 15-day DL with a mid back strain. Even though he had Tommy John surgery on July 29, 2014, the White Sox have no plans to baby Jones — he’s here and he will be used.

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“He’s going to have to be ready,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “If he was up here in September, if that was the earliest he got back, you would look at it a little differently. Once he’s up here and in the middle of it … he says he’s ready to go.”

Not only has Jones made nine appearances in the minor leagues since July 10, he also had more than a half-dozen simulated games prior to that. Jones has lit up the radar gun throughout, throwing four 100-mph fastballs among eight pitches in his first game.

Accompanied by a nasty slider, the right-hander, who led the team in 2013 with 78 relief innings, posted a 1.93 ERA and struck out five in 9 1/3 innings between Single-A Winston-Salem and Triple-A Charlotte on his rehab assignment.

“It was definitely a good test,” Jones said. “It was nice to see the hitters’ reaction, what they’re doing, and adjusting my game to that, and seeing how I react after I was done throwing, because it’s a different intensity level with the lights on and everything. Everything went well.”

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Jones didn’t just clear physical hurdles, a deliberate rehab has allowed him to clean up his mechanics and work on command. The right-hander only walked two batters in 9 1/3 innings. He also struck out four batters in his final two appearances.

“I got to zone in on my command and down there,” Jones said. “I feel stronger, because I think we cleaned up my mechanics a little bit. Got everything going towards the plate, and it makes a lot less stress on everything else on your body. I feel stronger and I feel better.”

Jones’ last appearance in the big leagues was April 3, 2014. At the time, Jones battled hip and back issues that led to a May 2014 microdisectomy. Jones was in big league camp all spring and has since made several stopovers in Chicago to throw in front of Ventura and Co. Ventura is glad to have back an arm he heavily relied upon in his first two seasons as the team’s manager.

“He has worked hard,” Ventura said. “For a guy that you have that surgery and work your way back, it’s a long road and he deserves to be here.”

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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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: