White Sox

White Sox encouraged by Mat Latos' progress in win over Padres

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White Sox encouraged by Mat Latos' progress in win over Padres

SAN DIEGO — It wasn’t perfect, but Mat Latos took a few steps forward on Friday night. Even though he struggled in his fifth and final frame, Latos and the White Sox are encouraged by the effort.

Pitching for the last time before the regular season, Latos allowed three runs as the White Sox beat the San Diego Padres, 5-3, at Petco Park. Jose Abreu had a two-run homer, and Jerry Sands singled in the go-ahead run in the eighth.

Latos started with four scoreless innings but exited after he reached his pitch count with two walks and a base hit in the fifth. Latos yielded five hits with three walks in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out three.

“This is the best he’s pitched this spring,” manager Robin Ventura said. “Getting out of Arizona, getting here, crank it up a bit more. He ran into a little bit (of trouble) there in the fifth, but this is the best he’s pitched so it’s encouraging.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Jerry Sands wins final spot on White Sox 25-man roster]

Friday was the third and final exhibition start made by Latos, who pitched for the Padres from 2009 to 2011. With several upcoming opponents on the schedule, the White Sox opted to have Latos pitch in several simulated games before he made his spring debut on March 22.

The White Sox liked the quality of Latos’ spring work but hoped to see more as he had only completed 8 2/3 innings in his first two starts. On Wednesday, pitching coach Don Cooper said Latos needed “to climb.”

He quickly bounded upward in the first inning with a big strikeout of Derek Norris to strand runners on the corners. From there, Latos posted three more scoreless frames, though his defense got him out of the fourth inning with a nice play.

Latos, who next starts on Thursday at Oakland, threw strikes on 40 of 69 pitches.

“Very good,” Latos said. “Today I feel like things started clicking. I feel comfortable on the mound. I threw a couple of splits for strikes, threw a couple changeups for strikes, bunch of sliders for strikes, two-seamers, four-seamers … I felt really good about today even though the fifth inning kind of got away.”

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Latos got ahead 1-2 in the count to Melvin Upton Jr. before he walked him to start the fifth. Pinch hitter Christian Bethancourt singled, and Latos walked Jon Jay to load the bases. Latos exited after Cory Spangenberg’s sac fly cut the White Sox lead to 3-1.

Reliever Jake Petricka issued a pair of bases-loaded walks later in the inning to force in runners for whom Latos was responsible.

“Just tried to nibble a bit in the fifth inning,” Latos said. “Can’t get guys out when you’re walking them.”

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.