White Sox

White Sox: Chris Sale again shows why he's an ace

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White Sox: Chris Sale again shows why he's an ace

Chris Sale offered a reminder of why he’s one of baseball’s premier pitchers Sunday afternoon, with Cubs right fielder Jorge Soler the unsuspecting victim of the left-hander’s brilliance.

With the bases loaded and two out in the top of the sixth and the White Sox holding a three-run lead, Sale fired a dominant five-pitch sequence that ended with Soler watching a backdoor slider catch the outside corner for strike three. Sale started the at-bat with a low-80s slider, then fired a trio of 99 mile per hour fastballs before going back to the breaking ball to end the inning.

Sale’s fastball averaged 95.7 miles per hour on Sunday, according to BrooksBaseball.net, but he found an extra gear to retire Soler and keep the Cubs off the board in what turned out to be a 3-1 White Sox win.

“You see that of a lot of ace-type pitchers,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “They seem to have that little extra in situations or against certain guys, certain counts.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox retain Crosstown Cup, avert sweep behind Chris Sale's 15 Ks]

Sale allowed one hit — Dexter Fowler’s one-out single in the sixth — and tied a career high with 15 strikeouts over his seven innings of shutout ball. He shut down a Cubs team that looks like a favorite in the National League Wild Card race and averaged 5.4 runs per game in August before Sunday.

Cubs All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a hit by pitch against Sale, was literally and figuratively blown away by the 26-year-old left-hander.

“He's the best in the biz, so yeah, hats off to him,” Rizzo said. “He made us look silly, but that's what he does. It was a small victory to get him out of there after the seventh, to get his pitch count up by striking out a bunch.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Tyler Saladino's defense at third improves with experience]

Sale’s ERA sits at 3.32, though he’s been hurt by a bad defense behind him (his FIP is 2.41, which would be a career best; the White Sox defense has the second-worst UZR and DRS in baseball). The best workaround for Sale might be to just rack up strikeouts, which he succeeded in doing Sunday.

His 208 strikeouts lead baseball, and in late May and June he tied Pedro Martinez’s record for most consecutive starts with double-digit strikeouts (eight). When he’s on his game, opponents have little chance to hit him — “guess right and (hope) we miss a spot,” Flowers said — which was the case Sunday.

Soler, who homered off David Robertson in the ninth inning, didn’t have much of a chance with Sale spotting his wipeout slider and a near-100 mile per hour fastball in a key situation.

“It’s fun,” Sale said. “The crowd gets into it. People in the K Zone are going crazy for me. It’s a fun, fun time. You have balls leaving the park, guys hitting homers. It’s a fun atmosphere to play in. I wish we could do that more often.”

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: