White Sox

White Sox: Chris Sale makes most of side session

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White Sox: Chris Sale makes most of side session

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He’d appreciate a little more atmosphere, but the focus was evident in Chris Sale’s workout on Friday.

The four-time All-Star pitcher participated in the first of three side sessions on a backfield at Camelback Ranch that will be substituted for game action. The White Sox prefer to keep Sale hidden from the first three opponents he’d face this spring and therefore he won’t pitch in a Cactus League game until March 19 against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even though it means pitching on empty backfields against teammates instead of in stadiums versus other teams, Sale thinks he can get in just as much quality work.

“You want to play,” Sale said. “But I get where we are at. My first X amount of starts, I think 3 or 4, were against teams we were playing right out of the gate or in division early on. They didn’t want the whole getting looks thing. You want to play in games. That’s why we are down here.

“I’ll be prepared and ready and excited for games when it’s my time.”

Not only was Sale’s Opening Day start aligned with the Cleveland Indians on Friday, but his Cactus League outings would have included the Oakland A’s on Wednesday and the Kansas City Royals on March 14. The Sox open the regular season in Oakland.

The White Sox know Sale won’t receive the same experience as if he pitched in front of a crowd. But it doesn’t mean they can’t complete a quality workout.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Not only did Sale and Nate Jones face major leaguers (Avisail Garcia and Adam Eaton were the sacrificial lambs), but Sale spent time working on his pickoff move. Pitching coach Don Cooper has been pleased with the efforts of both pitchers so far. Jones is expected to make his Cactus League debut on Monday against the Los Angeles Angels.

“What we’re doing with Sale, what we did with Jones today, is focused, quality work,” Cooper said. “Sale left here today feeling very good because we had focused work on certain stuff. It might be arm-side two-seamers, it might be fastballs in on a righty, it could be different things, different days. With Jonesy, it was the same thing. We had certain things that we wanted to get better at. Pitching is an art. It’s a craft. The only way you can get better at it is in a sideline, something like this, or a game. So you’ve got to make best use of that time.”

An injury prevented Sale from playing in a Cactus League game last spring. He knows what he’s missing, the energy gained from a crowd or facing a major league hitter. But he also knows he’ll have three chances to pitch in exhibition games before the season begins.

“Sometimes adrenaline will get the best of you,” Sale said. “You start getting a little errant with your pitches. But other than that, it’s a bunch of stuff you’ve done in the past really. You can put yourself in scenarios and get mentally locked in as much as physically. You miss out in repetitions in games, but we are professionals and should be able to get that under control.”

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: