White Sox

Putnam, Petricka have potential to shore up White Sox 'pen

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Putnam, Petricka have potential to shore up White Sox 'pen

DETROIT — One right-hander is on the mend and another has found his groove.

Those developments could provide a significant boost to a White Sox bullpen, which is already out to a good start.

With the addition of Jake Petricka, who should be activated off the 15-day disabled list on Monday, and a return to form by Zach Putnam, the White Sox relief corps promises to feature a more balanced feel with strong options from both the right and left sides.

“With the job the lefties have done so far and getting Jake back and having Putty, it’s another compliment to the ‘pen,” bullpen coach Bobby Thigpen said. “Hopefully we can get things rolling and keep putting up a lot of zeroes and we’ll feel a lot better about ourselves.”

[MORE: White Sox offense comes to life in blowout of Tigers]

Closer David Robertson has been lights out since he put on a White Sox uniform with eight strikeouts in four scoreless innings and two saves. But beyond him, manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper have leaned on lefties Zach Duke and Dan Jennings in tight spots.

The train of thought has been that the new trio would compliment Putnam and Petricka, who combined to convert 20 of 25 saves last season. The plan has been slow to form so far because of Petricka’s sore right forearm and Putnam’s early struggles.

But Petricka — who was spotted flying to Chicago from Triple-A Charlotte on Sunday morning — has posted two scoreless innings on a rehab and Putnam has flourished in his last two games, retiring all six batters with two strikeouts.

Prior to Wednesday in Cleveland, Putnam struggled with command of his cutter and even his best pitch, the split-fingered fastball. He allowed five hits and five runs (four earned) in his first two games.

“The results were pretty indicative of that,” Putnam said. “But now I feel like everything is kind of together, feeling good, like I’m in familiar territory from last year. The way that I was attacking guys (Saturday), it just reminded of last year, which I think is where everyone wants me to be.”

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The White Sox would love to have the Putnam of old as he posted a 1.98 ERA in 54 2/3 innings last season. Right-handed hitters had a .468 OPS against Putnam but he even pitched well against lefties, who had a .623 OPS.

Throw in Petricka who induced 12 double plays, led all rookies with 14 saves and had a 2.96 ERA in 73 innings, and the White Sox feel better about their depth.

“They were pretty good for us,” Ventura said. “You see the stuff that Put did last year, he’s good either way for right or lefty. It’s important to have that righty that can come in and get lefties in case you have to stay away from your own lefties.”

Thigpen and Putnam believe the reliever is more dialed in because he has his split-fingered fastball in great shape.

Putnam admits he perhaps focused more on command of the fastball and cutter during spring and the split needed to catch up. But seven of his last nine split-fingered fastballs have been swung at with three whiffs, two fouls and two ground balls, according to brooksbaseball.net.

In his other two games, Putnam gave up two singles on splitters.

“We have the potential to be really, really, really good,” Putnam said. “We won’t know how that shakes out until we have everybody together. The options, just the ability to do different things that we weren’t able to do last year with some of the pieces we have now, it has to be exciting for Robin and Coop.”

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

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.