White Sox

White Sox need to simplify to rediscover winning ways

White Sox need to simplify to rediscover winning ways

They’ve done it before this season, and White Sox players are confident they can find it once again.

Once off to a 23-10 start, the White Sox have been brought back to Earth by a stretch during which they’ve lost 11 of 15. Still, they don’t feel like they’re far off the mark, and eight losses since May 10 by two or fewer runs would suggest they aren’t. But the White Sox know they have to get back to what worked before, and that hasn’t occurred in a stretch where they’ve lost five consecutive series.

“It just hasn’t been as tight as it was when we were winning, making the plays, coming up with clutch hits, throwing the ball where you want to throw it and getting the result,” veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. “The results have been opposite of what we were like."

The pitching hasn’t been as good in this stretch as it was early. The team has a 4.53 ERA in its past 15 games.

But the offense has been much worse.

A group that averaged 5.6 runs per contest from April 25 to May 9 has averaged 3.8 in its last 15 and only 2.8 over the last dozen. Included in that stretch are nine contests with three or fewer runs, of which the White Sox have won two. In their last 12 games, the White Sox have a .289 team on-base percentage.

“We need to get guys on with less than two outs more, and we need to come through,” third baseman Todd Frazier said. “Right now we’re putting a little too much pressure on that instead of just playing our game, maybe a little too much. You’ve got to come back a little bit and understand, take our singles and make the pitcher work. Or, you get on him early, if you get a pitch to hit, we’ve got to do something with it.”

Both Frazier and Rollins said the White Sox merely need to simplify and get back to the basics. Rollins said they need to hit the ball, catch it, execute pitches and score more runs than the other team.

But he knows it isn’t that easy. While it should be, it isn’t.

It’s just that when a team is in a good stretch, there isn’t much to dwell on.

The White Sox have previously shown they’re capable of that state. Now it’s up to them to get back to it.

“When we were doing those things, everything’s going well,” Rollins said. “It’s always like when everything’s going well, everything seems easy. And when they’re not going well, you realize how difficult this game really is.

“We have to find a way to put an end to that. Great series to start that with."

“This game will always give you reminders — ‘Hey, you guys are good, but we’re going to slow you down a little bit.’ You keep at it, it’ll reward.”

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: