White Sox

Paul Konerko supports Guillen: 'I'm an Ozzie guy'

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Paul Konerko supports Guillen: 'I'm an Ozzie guy'

If Paul Konerko has his way, Ozzie Guillen’s No. 13 would be retired right up next to his one day at U.S. Cellular Field.

Following a 40-minute ceremony Saturday afternoon in which the White Sox retired his No. 14, Konerko called himself an “Ozzie guy” and offered support for his former manager. Guillen, who managed the White Sox from 2004 to 2011, and executive vice president Kenny Williams recently repaired their strained relationship three and a half seasons after Guillen departed to take over as manager of the Miami Marlins.

A sellout crowd at U.S. Cellular Field roared for Guillen when he was announced at the beginning of Konerko’s ceremony. Guillen was seated with key members of the White Sox, including manager Robin Ventura, Williams, chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, play-by-play announcer Hawk Harrelson, general manager Rick Hahn and special assistant to the GM Jim Thome.

[MORE WHITE SOX: Paul Konerko on future: 'Maybe I'm good at something else']

“He’s going to be loved,” Konerko said. “The bottom line is this is professional sports and the man won a World Series as the manager of a team. They are going to love him here. Ozzie was great to me. He treated me great.

“Totally different to the players on the inside than he was on the outside, constantly asking what you needed and taking care of you when you have injuries. Compassionate man and great family guy as far as not only to his own family and your family. If you had anything wrong, baseball was totally secondary. He didn’t care. Go home and take care of that. I don’t care about this game today.

“Players respect that. Very much a players’ manager. He’s going to get back in the game somewhere, whether it’s here or somewhere else. The guy is a baseball man. You don’t play as long as he did at shortstop in the major leagues and not have something to offer.

“I’m an Ozzie guy. I’ll stick up for Ozzie through and through. The guy took care of me. We won together. A lot of people, I know things went down the wrong way. Some of it is his fault, whatever. There also are a lot of people that are sensitive in a lot of situations where it’s just Ozzie, and you know I stick up for Ozzie. He was good to me, and I’ll always be on his side.”

[SHOP WHITE SOX: Get a Paul Konerko jersey right here]

Guillen led the White Sox to a 678-617 record and a pair of American League Central titles. But he said he wouldn’t have been able to accomplish any of it without Konerko, whom he asked to take over as the team’s captain in 2006. Guillen said he hopes one day he could join Konerko and have his number retired but also deferred further comment out of respect for his former player.

“I mean, I hope that happens one day, but I’m into that,” Guillen said. “Today is about PK, and I’m going to celebrate No. 14. No. 13, if that ever comes, I hope I’m still alive. But just to enjoy it. I’m so happy and so proud to be part of this because I know how big this thing is for him, for his teammates, his coaching, for the owner, for Kenny. This is a big day not just for him, but for everybody that was involved with him. It’s a big day for him.

“He make our life very happy. He make our life very comfortable. He make me look good. That was the most important thing.”

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: