White Sox

White Sox central slide continues with loss, series defeat to Royals

White Sox central slide continues with loss, series defeat to Royals

The flurry of roster moves made last week wasn’t enough to produce a much-needed series victory for the White Sox against the reigning World Series champions. 

The White Sox 3-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals in front of 30,863 at U.S. Cellular Field Sunday was the club’s 11th defeat in their last 12 games against American League Central opponents. 

A little over a month ago, the White Sox had a six-game lead in the AL Central and were 13 games over .500. But since May 10, the White Sox are 8-22, haven’t won three consecutive games and have only won one series (against the New York Mets, after which they were promptly swept by the Detroit Tigers). 

It’s tough to point to an easy fix for a team that hasn’t had much go right for them in the last 30 games. There’s been plenty of roster turnover in the last week — Mat Latos and Jimmy Rollins were jettisoned while top prospect Tim Anderson was promoted and veteran starter James Shields was acquired — but it hasn’t led to the White Sox marrying good pitching, defense and/or offense with any consistency. 

“There’s no magic formula for it,” catcher Alex Avila said. “There’s nothing you can say, there’s nothing you can do other than make sure you are prepared to come each game. The past few days we’ve been getting some really good pitching, some quality starts. Basically, we’ve been playing good defense and the one key that has been kind of missing is key hits in situations instead of getting one run being able to push two, three or four runs across.”

Carlos Rodon was solid in his six innings of work, allowing two run on seven hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. The 22-year-old left-hander, who was pushed back from his scheduled start Thursday due to a sore neck, lowered his season ERA to 4.28.

The damage could’ve been far worse, though, if not for Kansas City’s overaggressiveness on the base paths. The Royals had four players reach base in the second inning but only scored one run thanks to Paulo Orlando and Christian Colon being thrown out trying to steal by catcher Alex Avila. 

Kansas City got on the board in the first inning when Kendrys Morales ripped a two-out single to center that scored Whit Merrifield. 

Jose Abreu’s sixth-inning solo home run, his eighth of the season, halved the White Sox deficit at the time but was the only offense the team could muster.  Anderson hit into two double plays while Royals starter Yordano Ventura racked up 10 strikeouts in his seven innings of work.

"He was flat out nasty," Avila said. "He has great stuff. When he is able to command his curveball to go along with his fastball and changeup, he’s very tough."

Ventura entered the game with a well below average strikeout rate of 14.7 percent, but struck out 10 of the 25 batters he faced on Sunday (40 percent). It was the third time the White Sox faced the mercurial Ventura this season, and it was by far the least effective showing the team had against him.

“Some guys have to pick it up,” the fifth-year White Sox manager said. “The DH spot's going to rotate somewhat of who you've got in there and who needs a day. But these are the guys we've got and we've got to figure out something.”

After Sunday’s loss, the White Sox fell to 10-14 against American League Central opponents, but six of those wins (and none of the losses) have come against the lowly Minnesota Twins. The White Sox, too, fell to 2-7 against the Royals — who came to Chicago on a seven-game losing streak — in 2016. 

The White Sox have six more games against division opponents — three at home vs. Detroit and three against the Indians in Cleveland — in the next week. And while they’re still within striking distance in the division, that 4-14 mark against the Royals, Indians and Tigers has to improve for the White Sox to remain competitive in a diluted division. 

“There’s no worry,” Rodon said. “I mean, we know we’re good enough. We’re just going through a rough patch and we just need to come out of it and start winning.”

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: