White Sox

Peavy's long road back to the top

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Peavy's long road back to the top

KANSAS CITY -- Jake Peavy described the week that led up to Tuesdays All-Star Game as a wild ride.

But the White Sox starting pitcher, who on Thursday lost the Final Vote contest to Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish and was a last-minute addition Sunday to the American League roster, might as well have referenced the five years in between All-Star appearances.

Since he last played in All-Star Game in San Francisco in 2007 for the San Diego Padres, Peavy has won a unanimous Cy Young award, received a contract extension for a guaranteed 56 million, been traded to the White Sox twice, including once while he was injured, and later dealt with a career-threatening shoulder injury and the long road to recovery. Not an easy load for a guy who has no problem with admitting hes an emotional guy on all fronts.

Were here and I couldnt be more excited after what weve been through, Peavy said. I cant tell you last year when I was a year out of that major surgery and trying to make it back and going out there with the stuff I had, feeling the way I had, I never would have imagined a year later Id be talking to you from the All-Star Game.

Granted, this isnt the same Jake Peavy from five years earlier.

When he received all 32 first-place Cy Young votes in 2007, Peavy was purely a stuff guy. His fastball, which averaged 92.5 mph but routinely reached 95, and his slider, accounted for more than 80 percent of his pitches.

The Peavy who is now two years removed from a detached latissimus dorsi muscle injury in his right shoulder turns to his curveball and changeup far more often. His fastball averages 90.5 mph.

Teammate Adam Dunn prefers the current version.

Hes a smarter pitcher (now), Dunn said. He had great stuff back then. Im not saying he doesnt have it now. But he never threw changeups. He never threw curveballs. Now, obviously he doesnt have 95 anymore. Hes got his 92, which is really, plenty now. Hes got a really good changeup now that hes worked on, because he had to. And his slider is still sharp and now hes throwing the curveball as well. Hes evolved into a pitcher instead of more of a thrower.

One aspect of Peavys game, which hasnt changed, nor will it, is his emotional state on the mound. Peavy has long been known for his competitive fire. Its what many consider to have helped him overcome the fact that hes not as tall and is much skinnier than many of the pitchers he competes against.

A Peavy start is normally accompanied by several scenes of the pitcher cursing himself as he yanks a slider or doesnt properly locate a fastball.

It is a show, teammate Chris Sale said. Thats him being a competitor and trying to pretty much perfect pitching. He goes out every time and tries to be his best and when hes not, hes not happy. Its fun to watch. You pick up things. It works for him and it works very well.

Peavys fiery side allowed him to return from what St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday describes as uncharted territory. Peavys shoulder surgery, to repair a muscle that had completely fallen off the bone, was the first of its kind.

Though doctors expected him to be as healthy as he would be after 18 months, Peavy wasnt certain hed ever be capable of pitching at the level that allowed him to go 92-68 with the Padres. The only thing Peavy was certain about was he would do everything he could to give himself a chance to again become one of the games top pitchers.

Holliday, who faced him in St. Louis last month, said Peavy has regained his status as an elite-level pitcher. It isnt unexpected, either, Holliday said.

For him to be back to where he is now is impressive, but not surprising, Holliday said. Ive known Jake a little bit. Im not really surprised. Hes always been an elite pitcher and hes had a couple of years with injuries, but hes back to where I expect him to be. He was nearly unhittable (then). But hes still a very good pitcher. Hes as competitive as ever and as anybody in the game. He knows how to pitch and he probably knows how to pitch a little better now than he did then.

As for the flair and competitive drive on the mound, Peavy never lost it and Dunn is certain he never will.

Someone like him, it doesnt matter, Dunn said. In 15 or 20 or 30 years from now, well be on the golf course and itll be the same thing. You dont lose that.

Peavy hasnt lost his ability to comprehend where he is, either

He was excited his stall was several feet from Dunn. After the struggles both shared in 2011, Peavy knows he and Dunn will enjoy the All-Star experience as much as any rookie or first-time competitor in the clubhouse.

After what we went through together last year its super gratifying, Peavy said. It means the world. You never take this for the granted.

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

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AP

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some teams have it easy, with their 25-man rosters seemingly locked into place before spring training games even start.

The White Sox actually have a lot more locked-down spots than you might think for a rebuilding team, but this spring remains pretty important for a few guys.

The starting rotation figures to be set, with James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer the starting five. Carlos Rodon, of course, owns one of those spots once he returns from injury. But the date of that return remains a mystery.

From this observer’s viewpoint, eight of the everyday nine position players seem to be figured out, too: Welington Castillo behind the plate, Jose Abreu at first base, Yoan Moncada at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yolmer Sanchez at third base, Nicky Delmonico in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Matt Davidson as the designated hitter. More on the omission of a starting center fielder in a bit.

Omar Narvaez would be a logical pick to back up Castillo at catcher, and Tyler Saladino is really the lone reserve infielder with big league experience, not to mention he’s a versatile player that can play anywhere on the infield.

Leury Garcia also figures to be a lock for this 25-man roster. But will he be the everyday center fielder, as he was for a spell last season? He played 51 games in center in 2017 but battled injuries throughout the year. I think Leury Garcia will end up the starting center fielder when the season begins because of his bat. His .270/.316/.423 slash line isn’t going to make anyone do cartwheels, but it’s better than the offensive struggles of Adam Engel, who started 91 games in center in 2017 and slashed .166/.235/.282. Engel would still be a solid inclusion on the bench because of his superb defense, but to create that big a hole in the everyday lineup is tough.

How could that position-player group change? Keep your eyes in center field, where there are a couple other guys who could force their way into a roster spot this spring: Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell. Tilson has had a tremendous amount of trouble staying on the field since coming over to the White Sox in a 2016 deadline deal, but that hasn’t dampened the White Sox hopes for him. And Cordell got name-dropped by general manager Rick Hahn during SoxFest, when the GM said he’s received multiple calls about Cordell since acquiring him last summer. Cordell put up good numbers at the Triple-A level prior to a significant injury last year.

But the main battles figure to be in the bullpen. At times this winter, as the White Sox kept adding players to that relief corps mix, that the whole thing seemed wide open. But when you think about it, maybe there are only one or two open spots.

You’d have to think these guys are pretty safe bets to make the team: Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Though Hector Santiago was just recently acquired on a minor league deal, he’s really the only long man of the group, and he could sub in if there’s an injury to a starting pitcher. That leaves two spots between the group of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira — not to mention guys signed to minor league deals like Xavier Cedeno, Jeanmar Gomez and Bruce Rondon.

Bummer had a 4.50 ERA in 30 big league games last year. Farquhar had a 4.40 ERA in 15 games. Vieira has gotten attention as a flame-thrower, but he’s got just one big league game under his belt, something that might or might not matter to the rebuilding White Sox. Guys like Gomez, who has 40 career saves including 37 just two years ago, and Rondon, who had multiple shots at the Detroit Tigers’ closing job in the past, could vault themselves into the mix as potential midseason trade candidates.

Then there's the question of which of those guys will be Rick Renteria's closer. Minaya had closing duties after most of the bullpen was traded away last summer. He picked up nine saves and posted a 4.11 ERA in his final 17 appearances of the campaign. Look to Soria, though, a veteran with plenty of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. If he's given the opportunity to close and succeeds, he could fetch an intriguing return package in a potential deadline deal.

But now it's game time in Arizona.

“The fun part of playing the game of baseball is playing the game of baseball," Renteria said earlier this week. "We prepare. I think they all enjoy what they’re doing in terms of their preparation. They take it seriously, they focus. But ultimately like everything that we do in life, I guess it’s a test. And the games are a test for us on a daily basis. And how we are able to evaluate them and take advantage of the opportunities that we have to see them in a real game situation is certainly helpful for us.”

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.”