White Sox

White Sox lose eighth straight despite Chris Sale's 14 strikeouts

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White Sox lose eighth straight despite Chris Sale's 14 strikeouts

Chris Sale flirted with a perfect game in another historic performance on Friday night.

But the White Sox didn’t back him and even though Sale retired the first 17 batters and struck out 14, the Texas Rangers rallied in the ninth for a 2-1 victory at U.S. Cellular Field in front of 22,864.

Sale not only joined Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers in major league history to strike out at least a dozen batters in five straight starts, he had the White Sox in line to snap a seven-game losing streak until David Robertson allowed a bases-loaded, two-run pinch-hit single to Mitch Moreland. The eight-game losing streak is the team’s longest since Aug. 28-Sept 7, 2013.

“Sale did exactly what you want an ace to do in a situation like this,” Robertson said. “I went out there and stunk it up and gave it up tonight. It was a poor performance on me. I should have been there to pick the team up. We needed this one really bad. This one hurt.”

[SHOP: Buy a Chris Sale jersey]

Robertson got the call with the White Sox holding a 1-0 lead because the White Sox want to keep Sale healthy.

Not only had Sale already thrown 111 pitches on Friday, he made 125 in his previous start in Tampa Bay on Sunday. With that in mind, White Sox manager Robin Ventura called upon Robertson, who got into trouble when he walked Shin-Soo Choo walked and Elvis Andrus singled with one out. Both advanced on a wild pitch before Robertson struck out Joey Gallo. The White Sox intentionally walked Prince Fielder and pinch hitter Mitch Moreland ripped a 1-0 fastball to right for a single.

“If this was probably later on and you were in the playoffs, you might send (Sale) back out there,” Ventura said. “But he’s got a long way to go in this season and you’re trying to take care of him, too.

“He’s the crown jewel of our pitching staff and you have to take care of that. Other guys have a job to do.”

Sale did his with aplomb against the sleep-deprived Rangers, who arrived in Chicago at 5 a.m. from Los Angeles. He struck out two batters in four of the first six innings.

Jose Abreu nearly gave away Sale’s shot at perfection in the fourth when he bobbled an Andrus grounder only to recover with a blind, back-handed flip that Sale caught with his bare hand for the out. Sale struck out Joey Gallo to end the inning and motored on until Hanser Alberto broke up Sale’s bid for a perfecto with a soft liner into center for a single. But Sale quickly rebounded with a five-pitch whiff of Shin-Soo Choo, his 10th strikeout. Not only did that extend Sale’s franchise record for double-digit strikeout performances to 25, it makes Sale the first pitcher since Johnson in 2002 to accomplish the feat in six straight starts.

[GIF: Watch Abreu's no look toss to Sale for the out at first]

Sale struck out Gallo again in the seventh inning and returned to strikeout the side in the eighth inning, too. His strikeout of Ryan Rua to start the eighth put him on par with Johnson and Martinez.

Over his last six games, Sale has 71 strikeouts versus seven walks in 45 1/3 innings. He’s allowed seven runs (six earned) and 22 hits.

In the dozen-over-five starts-stretch in which he has matched Martinez and Johnson, Sale has 65 strikeouts and six walks in 38 1/3 innings. Martinez was the last pitcher to have at least 12 strikeouts in five straight starts from Sept. 4-27, 1999 for the Boston Red Sox. Johnson’s run went from June 19-July 11, 1998 while he pitched for the Seattle Mariners.

As good as he was, Sale didn’t flinch at Ventura’s decision, not with Robertson in the bullpen. Robertson has converted 13 of 17 opportunities this season.

[MORE: Ventura: Mistakes always affect the rest of the game]

“You can almost guarantee that’s not gonna happen too many times with him on the mound,” Sale said. “He’s one of the best in the game.

“Given the circumstances and everything, there’s a reason. It’s an easier decision when you got a guy like that coming in, too.”

The White Sox offense continues to make life difficult for the rest of the team. Even though they finished with nine hits, the White Sox were 1-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded 10. The White Sox stranded two in the first and the ninth, had a runner thrown out at home in the fourth and left ‘em loaded in the seventh.

Tyler Flowers, who reached base all three times, provided the only run with a fifth-inning solo homer.

“We had some opportunities, there were some chances to score some runs, we didn’t do it and that’s -- you start looking at the things that are going on, we need to be able to score some more runs for him,” Ventura said.

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

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AP

As Cactus League play begins, how many spots are actually up for grabs on the White Sox roster?

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Some teams have it easy, with their 25-man rosters seemingly locked into place before spring training games even start.

The White Sox actually have a lot more locked-down spots than you might think for a rebuilding team, but this spring remains pretty important for a few guys.

The starting rotation figures to be set, with James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer the starting five. Carlos Rodon, of course, owns one of those spots once he returns from injury. But the date of that return remains a mystery.

From this observer’s viewpoint, eight of the everyday nine position players seem to be figured out, too: Welington Castillo behind the plate, Jose Abreu at first base, Yoan Moncada at second base, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yolmer Sanchez at third base, Nicky Delmonico in left field, Avisail Garcia in right field and Matt Davidson as the designated hitter. More on the omission of a starting center fielder in a bit.

Omar Narvaez would be a logical pick to back up Castillo at catcher, and Tyler Saladino is really the lone reserve infielder with big league experience, not to mention he’s a versatile player that can play anywhere on the infield.

Leury Garcia also figures to be a lock for this 25-man roster. But will he be the everyday center fielder, as he was for a spell last season? He played 51 games in center in 2017 but battled injuries throughout the year. I think Leury Garcia will end up the starting center fielder when the season begins because of his bat. His .270/.316/.423 slash line isn’t going to make anyone do cartwheels, but it’s better than the offensive struggles of Adam Engel, who started 91 games in center in 2017 and slashed .166/.235/.282. Engel would still be a solid inclusion on the bench because of his superb defense, but to create that big a hole in the everyday lineup is tough.

How could that position-player group change? Keep your eyes in center field, where there are a couple other guys who could force their way into a roster spot this spring: Charlie Tilson and Ryan Cordell. Tilson has had a tremendous amount of trouble staying on the field since coming over to the White Sox in a 2016 deadline deal, but that hasn’t dampened the White Sox hopes for him. And Cordell got name-dropped by general manager Rick Hahn during SoxFest, when the GM said he’s received multiple calls about Cordell since acquiring him last summer. Cordell put up good numbers at the Triple-A level prior to a significant injury last year.

But the main battles figure to be in the bullpen. At times this winter, as the White Sox kept adding players to that relief corps mix, that the whole thing seemed wide open. But when you think about it, maybe there are only one or two open spots.

You’d have to think these guys are pretty safe bets to make the team: Juan Minaya, Gregory Infante, Nate Jones, Joakim Soria and Luis Avilan. Though Hector Santiago was just recently acquired on a minor league deal, he’s really the only long man of the group, and he could sub in if there’s an injury to a starting pitcher. That leaves two spots between the group of Aaron Bummer, Danny Farquhar, Jace Fry, Jose Ruiz and Thyago Vieira — not to mention guys signed to minor league deals like Xavier Cedeno, Jeanmar Gomez and Bruce Rondon.

Bummer had a 4.50 ERA in 30 big league games last year. Farquhar had a 4.40 ERA in 15 games. Vieira has gotten attention as a flame-thrower, but he’s got just one big league game under his belt, something that might or might not matter to the rebuilding White Sox. Guys like Gomez, who has 40 career saves including 37 just two years ago, and Rondon, who had multiple shots at the Detroit Tigers’ closing job in the past, could vault themselves into the mix as potential midseason trade candidates.

Then there's the question of which of those guys will be Rick Renteria's closer. Minaya had closing duties after most of the bullpen was traded away last summer. He picked up nine saves and posted a 4.11 ERA in his final 17 appearances of the campaign. Look to Soria, though, a veteran with plenty of closing experience from his days with the Kansas City Royals. If he's given the opportunity to close and succeeds, he could fetch an intriguing return package in a potential deadline deal.

But now it's game time in Arizona.

“The fun part of playing the game of baseball is playing the game of baseball," Renteria said earlier this week. "We prepare. I think they all enjoy what they’re doing in terms of their preparation. They take it seriously, they focus. But ultimately like everything that we do in life, I guess it’s a test. And the games are a test for us on a daily basis. And how we are able to evaluate them and take advantage of the opportunities that we have to see them in a real game situation is certainly helpful for us.”

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.”