White Sox

Now in everyday role, Tyler Saladino hits first big league homer

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Now in everyday role, Tyler Saladino hits first big league homer

No matter how much reporters wanted him to, Tyler Saladino just refused to be happy about hitting his first big league home run.

The rookie, who in a short amount of time in the majors has shown he has an extreme team-first attitude, homered off Royals pitcher Danny Duffy in the ninth inning of what turned out to be a 4-1 loss Sunday at U.S. Cellular Field. But the fact that his first big league blast came in a defeat washed almost all of the enjoyment away from the moment for the 25-year-old.

“The home run’s nice, especially the first one, but at the end of the day, if we don’t win, that’s all that matters. The home run is just a moment,” Saladino said. “The win, at the end of the day, we didn’t get it, so come back Tuesday.

“It’s a huge accomplishment to trot around those bases at a big league field, a major league home run. But I can’t help it. It doesn’t do it (for me). If we won, it would’ve been the greatest thing to happen. But we didn’t. I don’t know, it just doesn’t quite do it.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Chris Sale not at his best as White Sox fall to AL's best]

Man, it takes a lot to get this kid excited.

In all seriousness, Saladino’s team-first mentality is a perfectly admirable one. The same can be said for his play on the field, which has impressed in just seven games. Before Sunday’s series finale with the Royals, manager Robin Ventura praised how Saladino “always seems to be dirty.” And anyone who’s paid attention knows Saladino already boasts some pretty strong defensive chops, as he’s made some terrific plays at the hot corner.

“It's always special when a guy hits his first home run or first hit,” Ventura said. “He just continues to play. As far as that stuff, he's going to check that off the list. But he's just playing to win games. He's not into the meaning of all that. He thinks it's cool and everything, but he's trying as hard as he can to help us win games. He's just a good player.”

Being “just a good player” was enough to make Saladino the White Sox everyday third baseman, a role confirmed by Ventura ahead of Sunday’s game. Saladino was called up and has started every game since last weekend’s Interleague series against the Cubs, but his opportunity to be an everyday major league player became a little more official Sunday, when the White Sox designated veteran third baseman Conor Gillaspie for assignment.

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox designate Conor Gillaspie, return Matt Albers to 'pen]

Saladino has earned it so far. He’s now 8-for-26 in seven games.

“You don’t know what to expect coming up here,” Saladino said. “Preparation is everything for me, just working hard, treating every day like it’s as important as any other. That’s just all I try to do, so being able to have some results out of all that, it’s gratifying. But I’m still trying to treat each day as important as the other and be ready for Tuesday.”

Sunday, Saladino’s homer got the attention, but it was clear he didn’t want to revel in that. Talk of his defense, on the other hand, did elicit a minimal amount of pride.

“I’ve put in so many hours with (White Sox coach Joe McEwing) and all the guys, everybody from the start of it, guys from instructional league in the very beginning to all the ground balls we’ve taken every year since then to get to this point,” Saladino said. “I take a lot of pride in that stuff and taking care of the ball defensively.”

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That’s about as much as a boast you’ll hear from Saladino. He said he did get the ball from his first homer, and the game’s lineup card was on his chair after the game. So there will be some sort of memory from this day.

But perhaps a more fitting milestone for Saladino awaits: first major league home run in a win.

If he keeps doing what he’s done through seven big league games, that one shouldn’t be too far off.

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: