White Sox

Sox Drawer: Humber's long road back

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Sox Drawer: Humber's long road back

Wednesday, April 27, 2011
Posted: 10:43 a.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

If everything in life went exactly in a straight line, Phil Humber would not have been flirting with a no-hitter against the New York Yankees on Monday night. He would have been doing it for them.

Drafted by the Yankees in the 29th round of the 2001 MLB draft, the Texas native chose to play college ball at Rice University instead.

It would be the first of many twists and turns in the baseball career for Humber, once a cant-miss prospect thought to be a Porsche, who would soon find himself treated like a Pinto.

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Hed help Rice win its first national championship in 2003. Hed be drafted by the Mets in 2004 as the third overall pick, one selection behind Justin Verlander, nine ahead of Cy Young frontrunner Jered Weaver.

He was making baseball look easy. Way too easy.

When I got drafted by the Mets, I kind of just assumed Id make a few starts in the minor leagues and just get my 10-15 year career in the big leagues, Humber said by phone Tuesday. I didnt realize how hard it is to actually get here, and on top of that how much harder it is to stay.

He wouldnt stay long.

Thrown into the fire of a late-September pennant race in 2007, Humber made his first major league start against the Nationals, and gave up five runs in four-plus innings. Humber didnt lose the game, but the Mets eventually did, not to mention a seven-game lead in the final three weeks of the season to the Phillies.

That winter, the Mets lost something else: their faith in their former No. 1 pick.

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Humber was shipped off to Minnesota in the blockbuster trade for Johan Santana. The hot shot prospect who didnt seem to have a ceiling would soon be headed towards baseballs basement.

The Twins would designate him for assignment after one season. The Royals waived him next, followed by the Athletics.

I wasnt having fun with baseball, Humber recalled.

But while pitching winter ball in Puerto Rico in 2009, the light went on for Humber when he finally decided to turn the spotlight off.

I just wanted to go forward and play for me and not think about expectations of being traded for a big-name pitcher or for being a first-round pick that hasnt panned out. I just wanted to play for the fun of the game.

Throwing a no-hitter against the Yankees for six innings? That sounds like fun. But watching the stone-faced Humber coast through one of the toughest lineups in baseball, you wouldnt know it. He looked like a guy spacing out in math class, not throwing a no-no at Yankee Stadium against Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Robinson Cano.

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I wasnt thinking about who was at the plate and how many hits they had in their careers, Humber said. I was focused on making my pitches and as the game went on, I got more and more confident. When youre confident out there, youre able to really let your ability work. So I think that was the difference.

There was also the advice he received as a 12-year-old from Robert Ellis, a former major-league pitcher (and White Sox draft pick in 1990).

He would tell me, If I walk up and youre pitching, I dont want to be able to tell by looking at you if youre up by 10 runs or down by 10 runs. Thats kind of what Ive always tried to keep in mind. And I think it helps because the other team doesnt know if youre having a good day or bad day by looking at your body language.

Humbers spot in the White Sox rotation is currently a rental. Hes holding down the fort until Jake Peavy is healthy enough to return. But when Humber gets sent to the bullpen or even back down to the minors again, he won't be the shiny new car in the front of the showroom getting all the attention. He'll be the stronger, wiser 28-year-old who got knocked down and battled back.

Now I have a much greater appreciation for where Im at," Humber said. "I dont try to predict the future anymore. I dont try to say, If I do well, am I going to stay? Or if I dont, am I going to get sent down? I just go up there and do the best I can and try to remain grateful for the opportunity and concentrate more on the moment.

Moments like Monday night. From favorite to underdog (or is it Humberdog?). Either way, he's showing he's got plenty of bite.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

Yo-Yo and the Big Elephant: Now this is the show South Side fans have been waiting for

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AP

Yo-Yo and the Big Elephant: Now this is the show South Side fans have been waiting for

Yo-Yo and the Big Elephant sound like characters from your kid’s favorite show (or your favorite show, if you happen to be a kid).

But instead they’re the duo South Side baseball fans have been waiting for.

You might know them better as the Cuban Connection, an alliterative and far less confusing nickname that describes Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu, who in Monday night’s 10-4 win over the visiting Seattle Mariners combined for seven hits, three home runs, a double, a triple, six runs scored and four RBIs.

It was a welcome sight after the White Sox offense slumbered through a weekend series with the Houston Astros in which they mustered just two runs. Heck, this offense has been hard to find during the entire month of April. Entering Monday, it’d produced just 16 runs in its last seven games (with 11 of those coming in a single contest).

But then came Monday’s show, in which Abreu launched a pair of homers and Moncada came a single short of hitting for the cycle. That had to be a proud moment for Abreu, who’s taken his countryman under his wing since Moncada arrived in the majors last summer.

“I’m really mad at him because he had two chances to do it and he couldn’t,” Abreu joked with the help of a translator. “Seriously, I’m really happy for him. I know today was a special game for him. I know he couldn’t hit for the cycle today. But he’s going to have more chances in the future. He’s going to be good.”

This is what White Sox fans have been hoping for. It’s what they’re still waiting for, considering much of that oft-discussed team of the future is still developing in the minor leagues. But Moncada is the story of 2018 at the major league level, how development will continue for the player White Sox fans drooled over at this time last year, when he was ranked as baseball’s top prospect.

Moncada got a lot of early attention for his high strikeout total, and with another punch out Monday he’s now got 34 on the season, still one of the highest totals in the league. But his numbers are looking good in many other facets. He raised his batting average .026 points Monday alone, and he’s now slashing .240/.345/.493 on the still-young season.

Abreu, of course, is the White Sox best hitter and has been ever since he arrived from Cuba before the 2014 season. For a team in such an offensive rut, Abreu’s four-hit night Monday raised his batting average up over .300, to .308. He’s now got six homers on the season, the most on the team and one of the higher totals in the American League. While Moncada and others will spend 2018 showing the White Sox what they will be in the future, this was expected from a guy who’s been one of baseball’s most consistent hitters in the last half decade.

But the future comes into play with Abreu, too, whose consistency at the plate and his presence in the clubhouse as a mentor to Moncada and other young players make him as believable a part of those planned future contenders as any of the organization’s highly rated prospects. A contract decision will need to be made at some point, obviously, but the White Sox will tell you any day of the week how much they value Abreu, who knows exactly where this franchise is and is excited as anyone about where it’s going.

“Everybody knows we are in the process, and everybody knows what this process is about,” Abreu said. “We have a lot of young talent, a lot of young players. They are going to hit some bumps and have some struggles as a team. But I think we all know how we have to play this game. (Manager Rick Renteria) has taught us how to play this game, how to play this game representing the White Sox organization and how they play this game.

“I feel really happy. We prove today that we are able to play a good game and to show the rest how we win games. That is the way we like to play.”

Monday was a bright spot in what’s been an otherwise very tough start to the 2018 campaign. But for a team where the future is what matters most, this is what fans have been waiting to see. A game like this might not be commonplace as the summer rolls on on the South Side. But for those dreaming about Moncada and Abreu teaming to lead those contenders of the future, this was one heck of a glimpse into the crystal ball.

“That’s our goal to have big games together for this team,” Moncada said. “Having the opportunity to play with Abreu — ‘The Big Elephant’ as we call him in Cuba — it’s good for me. It’s a big honor. I feel really happy when we have these kinds of games.”

Yoan Moncada nearly hits for the cycle, Jose Abreu hits two homers and the White Sox finally break out the bats

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AP

Yoan Moncada nearly hits for the cycle, Jose Abreu hits two homers and the White Sox finally break out the bats

So, anyone out there still worried about Yoan Moncada?

The White Sox second baseman, who at this time last year was the top-ranked prospect in baseball, was the subject of much social-media frustration through the season's first few weeks. But it's safe to say he's "redeemed" himself in the eyes of fretting fans.

Monday night, he led the White Sox offensive eruption with a three-hit night that brought him just a single shy of the cycle in a 10-4 win over the visiting Seattle Mariners.

Moncada started the offensive outburst with a leadoff triple in the bottom of the first inning. He doubled to start the bottom of the second and launched a solo homer to begin the bottom of the fourth. He scored all three times.

Moncada entered the game with a .214/.329/.400 slash line, though he's been hot of late. In the last seven games, he's got nine hits, six extra-base hits and three homers. He still has 34 strikeouts on the season, one of the highest totals in the majors, but he's putting up some good numbers elsewhere.

Abreu also had a red-hot Monday night, picking up four hits with a couple of homers, the 12th time he's bashed multiple long balls in a single game.

It was quite the performance for a White Sox offense that has mostly been quiet so far in 2018. They scored just two total runs in three straight blowout losses against the Houston Astros over the weekend. And while they plated 11 in that 14-inning marathon in Oakland, the three road games prior to that featured a grand total of three runs.

Monday night that all changed with the White Sox banging out 18 hits, including seven straight to start the bottom of the first, the first time that happened in the big leagues in four years.