White Sox

Matt Albers plays unlikely extra-inning hero in White Sox win

Matt Albers plays unlikely extra-inning hero in White Sox win

NEW YORK — Matt Albers got his groove back.

So too did the White Sox bullpen.

Forced to hit for himself, Albers doubled, advanced on a wild pitch and scored the winning run as the White Sox beat the New York Mets, 2-1, in 13 innings in front of 34,160 at Citi Field.

Two innings from Albers — part of eight scoreless by the bullpen — Jose Abreu’s go-ahead sac fly and five double plays turned pushed the White Sox to their first series victory since May 8. The White Sox had lost six consecutive series, a stretch in which the previously unhittable Albers went 0-4 with an 11.57 ERA in 10 games.

Todd Frazier provided the team's only other offense with a game-tying solo homer, his 17th, in the seventh inning off Jacob deGrom.

“I don’t have words to describe that,” Abreu said of Albers through an interpreter.

Making his first plate appearance since 2009, Albers — who hits from the left side — smoked a 2-2 fastball from Logan Verrett over Mets outfielders in left center. After he didn’t slide into second base, Albers advanced on a wild pitch and easily scored when he tagged up on Abreu’s sac fly to center. Prior to the sac fly, Abreu went 0-for-4 with a walk and had stranded four base runners.

Albers then composed himself and worked around a two-out walk — the 13th issued by a White Sox pitcher — to preserve the victory.

“I almost ran (Mets second baseman Neil) Walker over,” Albers said. “I was like, ‘Sorry, man, I don’t know how to slide.’

“That was awesome to get the win and be a part of it. A hit means nothing if I don’t go out and get those next three outs. After I caught my breath, I went back out there and finished it off.”

The White Sox had to catch their collective breath after Albers’ trip around the bases.

Though it was his third career hit, including one off current teammate Zach Duke in 2007, Albers hadn’t batted in seven years. Closer David Robertson — who pitched two scoreless innings ahead of Albers and nearly batted in the top of the 12th — said he has seen Albers take healthy hacks in spring training. That combined with several nice defensive plays had Robertson convinced his teammate might be able to produce.

“He’s an athlete, he really is,” Robertson said.

Albers immediately knew he’d hit after he retired James Loney on a groundout to end the 12th. Pitcher Mat Latos handed him a bat, but it was too heavy. Albers then turned to Dioner Navarro for a piece of lumber — 32 1/ 2 inches, 32 ounces — and a helmet.

But nobody knew what to expect, especially as the right-handed pitcher stepped to the plate on the left side.

“Navarro was like, ‘You have the wrong helmet,’ and I was like, ‘I’m allegedly left-handed,’” Albers said.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Albers didn’t flinch when he learned he’d bat.

“He didn’t even hesitate,” Ventura said. “He wanted an elbow guard, and he was ready to go.”

Ditto for the bottom of the inning, even though Albers had already thrown 18 pitches.

Albers, who saw a franchise-record streak of 30 straight scoreless appearances end on April 16, quickly recorded the first two outs. He walked Rene Rivera but retired pinch-hitter Kevin Plawecki on his 37th pitch to end the game.

It was a Herculean effort by the White Sox bullpen, which bounced back nicely in New York after a horrifying weekend in Kansas City. As bad as the relievers were in Kansas City, they were nearly as good in the Big Apple. White Sox relievers posted four scoreless in Tuesday night’s comeback victory and another in a one-run loss on Monday, giving them 13 in the series. The group allowed 14 earned runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Kansas City Royals.

On Wednesday they picked up the slack after Miguel Gonzalez lasted only five innings. Gonzalez kept the White Sox within striking distance, allowing just a run. But he also walked five batters.

Dan Jennings loaded the bases with a single and two walks in the sixth, but Zach Putnam struck out Rivera to end the threat. Duke struck out three batters in the seventh, and Nate Jones worked around a walk and stranded a runner in the eighth with a double play — the fourth turned by the White Sox. Jones returned in the ninth and retired the side in order, including a strike out of pinch hitter Yoenis Cespedes. Robertson followed a 42-pitch effort to provide two scoreless innings.

That set the stage for Albers, who didn’t allow an earned run until May 5, his 13th appearance. The man who loaned him his bat thinks the performance can help Albers rediscover some of his early season form, which would in turn help the bullpen.

The eight scoreless innings are the most by a White Sox bullpen since Aug. 20, 1995.

“Great boost,” Navarro said. “Everybody has trouble throughout the season, it’s such a long season and people go through hot and cold stretches. We’ve just got to minimize the damage. We knew we didn’t perform the way we normally performed in Kansas City. But if there’s a time where you’ve gotta go through a funk like that it’s right now because you’ve got to find out what you’re made of. We did a pretty good job this series and we’ve just got to keep going hard every day.”

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.