White Sox

White Sox Carlos Rodon struggles in major league debut

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White Sox Carlos Rodon struggles in major league debut

Carlos Rodon worked in almost entirely unfamiliar surroundings when he made his major league debut on Tuesday night.

Not only was he in a big league park for the first time, Rodon also pitched out of the bullpen and did so without the aid of trusted slider. All those factors and a wild start in tight spot combined for a less-than-spectacular showing for the team’s top pitching prospect. Rodon allowed two earned runs and three hits with three walks in a 6-2 loss the Cleveland Indians at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday night.

“Just glad I got that out of the way,” Rodon said. “It’s something I have to be ready for. No excuses.”

Five days after Cubs prospect Kris Bryant struggled in his major league debut, Rodon didn’t fare much better.

With runners on the corners and two outs in the sixth inning, the hard-throwing left-hander raced in from the left-field bullpen with Muse’s ‘Uprising’ blasting on the sound system.

After mostly looking sharp throughout the spring with five walks in 17 2/3 innings, Rodon had trouble locating his fastball. Throwing a steady diet of hitters -- only two of his 15 pitches in the sixth were sliders -- Rodon walked the first man he faced, Brandon Moss, on four pitches to load the bases. After falling behind White Sox-killer Ryan Raburn 2-0 in the count, Rodon’s seventh pitch went for his first strike. His fastball sat between 95-98 as he and Raburn battled to a full count.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Raburn fouled off three in a row before he did to Rodon what he does to all White Sox pitchers and got just enough of another 98-mph heater -- despite a broken bat -- to dump it into left field for a two-run single.

Lonnie Chisenhall, who later would become Rodon’s first strikeout victim, grounded out to third to end the sixth.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura turned to Rodon because starter Hector Noesi -- who hadn’t pitched in 11 days -- was at 99 pitches. Asked if he put Rodon in a too big of a spot, Ventura said no. Rodon pitched in the College World Series for North Carolina State and for Team USA in a win over Cuba at Wrigley Field in 2013.

“He’s pitched in some big games,” Ventura said. “He’s pitched in big spots before. So for him, I think its just being in the big leagues. He was amped up and letting it fly.

He was pretty amped up and couldn’t really get it the way he wanted to and place it. But he’s up here for that reason.”

[RELATED: Refurbished White Sox bullpen off to a good start]

Rodon continued to struggle with command in the seventh inning as he walked the first two batters he faced. Two batters later, Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis gave his team a 5-1 lead with a sacrifice fly and Michael Brantley’s two-out RBI single made it a five-run contest.

“He showed a lot of guts,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “We were kind of limited on what we could throw. But he kept being aggressive. We tried to get ahead of guys and even when we didn’t, we didn’t give up any hard-hit balls. That’s a compliment to the kind of stuff he has and once he settles down, he’s going to be a good addition.”

The third inning he pitched was the smoothest for Rodon, though he nearly surrendered his first major league homer as Raburn doubled off the top of the fence in right-center field with one out. But even without the slider -- he threw it for three strikes and eight balls, according to brooksbaseball.net -- Rodon struck out Chisenhall and Roberto Perez grounded out.

“A little all over the place and then finally some command,” Rodon said. “Not where I’m usually at.

“Maybe overthrowing, but there are no excuses. Just have to be good in that situation.”

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: