White Sox

White Sox miss early opportunities, fall to Royals

White Sox miss early opportunities, fall to Royals

One rule has stood firm for opponents during the successful run of the Kansas City Royals — get your offense early.

The White Sox received another copy of that memo on Friday night as they lost their first meeting of 2016 against the reigning World Series champions at U.S. Cellular Field by a 4-1 count.

The White Sox didn’t convert on early chances against Kansas City starter Dillon Gee and his bullpen picked up the slack with four scoreless innings. Meanwhile, the Royals scored four late runs against Jose Quintana to send the White Sox to their seventh loss in nine games.

“You want to keep those horses in the bullpen,” catcher Alex Avila. “You don’t want them coming out in the game. Usually when they’re coming out, you’re on the wrong side.”

Without question the White Sox offense has improved from last season. They entered Friday averaging 1/2 a run more per game than they did in 2015, which has them in the middle of the pack in the majors. Part of their improvement stems from hitting .267 with runners in scoring position, which ranked 11th among 30 teams in the majors entering play.

But the White Sox offense is still susceptible to ruts and they’re currently in a funk. For the fourth time in six games, the White Sox scored three or fewer runs.

It wasn’t for a lack of chances.

With Jose Abreu hitting second in hopes it would mix things up, the White Sox had several opportunities to build upon a 1-0 lead against Gee in the early innings.

They failed in each one.

Austin Jackson put them ahead with a sac fly in the second inning. But Gee retired Tyler Saladino to strand a pair. Gee struck out Brett Lawrie with two aboard to end the third inning and Adam Eaton grounded into a fielder’s choice with two on to end the fourth.

Gee retired the side in order in the fifth inning (he also did in the first) and handed it over to his bullpen — but you knew that was coming.

The White Sox even had a shot at Joakim Soria in the seventh inning as Eaton — who was ejected after the game ended for arguing balls and strikes — singled and Abreu walked. But Alcides Escobar snagged a Todd Frazier liner headed for left and doubled Eaton off second to end the inning.

Though White Sox manager Robin Ventura credited Gee for being sneaky and effectively using his cutter, he put the onus on an offense that went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine.

“We had some opportunities and we didn't do that same thing that they of being able to put it in play, knock guys in,” Ventura said. “We had enough guys on base, we just didn't execute enough.

“We've just got to do a better job executing.”

The Royals did their job in limited chances against Quintana.

The left-hander faced the minimum through five innings and only allowed one hit. Quintana looked just as effective as Thursday’s starter Chris Sale as he needed only 43 pitches to complete four innings.

But Omar Infante jumpstarted the Royals, who trailed 1-0, in the sixth inning with a one-out double and they didn’t stop until they had a three-run lead. Former Sox farmhand Paulo Orlando continued to torment his old team with a game-tying double off Quintana and Lorenzo Cain doubled in another to put Kansas City ahead 2-1. Kendrys Morales also singled in a run in the sixth.

An inning later, Orlando singled in another run to make it 4-1. He also singled in the ninth and finished 3-for-4. Orlando is now 18-for-51 (.353) against the White Sox with six RBIs and 63-for-247 (.255) with 28 RBIs against everyone else.

The combination of the White Sox struggles and the Royals’ ability in the clutch led to the inevitable as Ned Yost rolled out Luke Hochevar, Soria, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis.

Royals relievers retired 11 of 15 batters to beat the White Sox for the 13th time in their last 20 meetings.

“To beat a competitive team like Kansas City, you’ve got to get those two-out knocks,” Eaton said. “It just seemed like missed opportunities. It’s been kind of the story of this homestand thus far, and then going on the road there. We’ve got to turn it around, some way, shape or form. Q threw a heck of a game. Four runs to those guys, as competitive as he was. If we get on them early, it may be a different story.”

Instead, it was the same story the Royals have told for three seasons now.

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: