White Sox

Ventura confident veterans will jump-start White Sox offense

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Ventura confident veterans will jump-start White Sox offense

A revamped, and somewhat expensive, lineup was supposed to electrify the White Sox offense in 2015 and become a perfect complement to a dominant pitching staff that boasts the likes of Chris Sale, Jeff Samardzija and Jose Quintana.

But the sluggers on the South Side have yet to flip the switch and see what this offense truly looks like when it’s clicking on all cylinders on a consistent basis.

White Sox outfielder Melky Cabrera, who was thought of as an ideal No. 2 hitter in the lineup when he signed this offseason, has only hit .245/.293/.277 with one home run and 15 RBIs. Designated hitter Adam LaRoche (.218/.358/.355, four home runs, 16 RBIs) has yet to find his home-run stroke between Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia in the lineup.

The South Siders entered Sunday’s showdown with the Minnesota Twins tied for last in the majors with 26 home runs. They also ranked second-to-last in runs scored (146), ahead of only the Philadelphia Phillies (145). White Sox manager Robin Ventura has faith in the veterans in the clubhouse and knows what his group is capable of doing at the plate.

“It’s not been what we have wanted so far,” Ventura said. “But you’re looking at guys and their track record and what they’ve done in their careers, you expect some more home runs out of them. Hopefully when it warms up, we have a chance to do that.”

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One of the reasons the White Sox power numbers have been down so far this year is the hitting of Abreu. The reigning AL Rookie of the Year hasn’t necessarily struggled at the plate, as he’s hitting .283 with a .812 OPS, but the home runs haven’t come just yet. In his rookie campaign, he hit 15 home runs in his first 44 games. Over 40 games this year, he only has six.

Ventura isn’t worried about his star hitter because of the quality cuts he’s been putting on the ball. But with the secret out that Abreu is a mature and dangerous hitter, he’s been seeing every hurler’s best pitches.

“He’s gotten into that category where people give their best stuff when he’s up,” Ventura said. “He’s going to see the guy’s best slider, curveball, best fastball running him in. You have to be in an elite category for that, and he’s earned it.”

With eight games over the next seven days on the road, White Sox hitters will need to support a pitching staff that could see a lot of arms being used. Ventura knows from his playing days that it might be a late-game hit that could get the whole lineup going and heading in the direction that everyone envisioned at the start of the season.

“This last home stand we’ve had some one-run games where you have the chance to win the game in your last at-bat,” he said. “Some we did, and some we didn’t. You want that confidence to keep going. You want it to feel like you’re going to do it every time, but you’re not going to. You have to keep your level of confidence and professionalism as you go along then you’re going to make it happen.”

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: