White Sox

White Sox catcher Alex Avila explains why Chris Sale and Justin Verlander are so good

White Sox catcher Alex Avila explains why Chris Sale and Justin Verlander are so good

Two of the best pitchers in baseball went head-to-head for the second time this season and in the last week.

Chris Sale and Justin Verlander squared off at U.S. Cellular Field on Monday just five days after seeing each other on the mound at Comerica Park.

Similar to last week, both pitchers had strong outings again on Labor Day in front of 18,653 fans, which resulted in a 5-3 White Sox loss in 11 innings.

“You're talking about two of the best pitchers in the league over the last 10 years, you know what you're getting when they come to town,” Sale said. “Just try to be as good as you can and go from there.”

Sale pitched eight innings with eight strikeouts and allowed two earned runs on six hits. Verlander went seven innings with 11 strikeouts, tying his season high, and surrendered two earned runs on eight hits.

“They have the type of stuff if they do make a mistake they can get away with it,” White Sox catcher Alex Avila said, who caught Verlander in Detroit from 2009-2015. “And the reason they’re also good is they can command multiple pitches on both sides of the plate. That’s why they’re as good as they are.”

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Verlander now has 209 strikeouts on the season, making it the sixth time the righthander has accomplished having 200 or more in a season. Sale is not far behind at 193, which are seven away from his fourth straight season with 200+ K’s.

“It’s a great matchup,” Ventura said. “Both guys were strong. Even a day that you know the conditions are very offensive. Even with the fly ball, the first fly ball of the day, you see anything really in the air going to left field, if it’s hit decent, it’s going to go.”

That’s exactly what happened with Avila, who took advantage of a four-seam fastball on the first pitch he saw in the seventh inning and homered in the second straight game against Verlander. In both games against his former teammate, Avila went 1-for-3 with one homer and two strikeouts.

“I wasn’t trying to hit a home run,” Avila said following his sixth home run of the season. “He just missed his location. He was trying to go away and it was more middle. With him he’s so tough because this year with as hard as he’s been throwing he’s been able to live at the top of the zone with the fastball. It’s kind of riding on you and it’s tough to gauge which one is a strike or not.

“A lot of times it depends on the umpire. Depending on the umpire you can have a tough day out there, plus with a three o’clock game you can’t see for six innings.

“With him you have to make sure he is down and when you get it down in the zone don’t miss it.”

And having caught Verlander for seven years in Detroit may have helped.

“I will say having faced him this year, going into the games, I didn’t have to do any type of homework before the games,” Avila said. “I already understood what he was going to be trying to do. He’s tough, and he’s throwing the ball really well.”

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: