White Sox

White Sox retain Crosstown Cup, avert sweep behind Chris Sale's 15 Ks

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White Sox retain Crosstown Cup, avert sweep behind Chris Sale's 15 Ks

Shortly after Sunday’s 3-1 White Sox victory over the Cubs, Jose Abreu asked a clubhouse attendant to have Chris Sale autograph a baseball for him.

Abreu said the ball is a gift for his son, but nobody could blame him if he kept it for himself after Sale’s dominant performance in the finale of the 2015 Crosstown Cup.

Sale matched a career high with 15 strikeouts and didn’t yield a hit until the sixth inning as the White Sox won in front of 39,475 at U.S. Cellular Field.

Abreu, Alexei Ramirez and Melky Cabrera all homered off Dan Haren as the White Sox stopped the Cubs’ nine-game winning streak and evened the teams’ season series at three games apiece. The series tie means the White Sox — whose pitchers struck out a franchise-record 18 and combined on a three-hitter — retained the Cup after they won three of four meetings in 2014.

“Everybody knows the quality he has,” Abreu said through an interpreter. “We have to thank God because he’s with us. He’s an outstanding pitcher, probably one of the best in baseball right now, and every time he’s on the mound for us — I don’t know how to explain it because he’s unbelievable.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Tyler Saladino's defense at third improves with experience]

Sale’s fastball-slider-changeup combo did all the talking from the outset.

The left-hander struck out the side on 14 pitches in the first inning and didn’t have a batter put the ball in play until Jorge Soler reached on an error in the second. Sale struck out two more in the second inning, another in the third and got all three batters in the fourth. His first eight strikeouts came via swings.

“He was ready to go,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “He was fantastic today. I don't know, not too many times he's been better than that. He's had some that were close to it, but right from the start of the game, when he strikes out the guys in the first inning, strikes out the side, you're feeling pretty good about it. He was darn near unhittable for the time he was in there.”

Sale only got into trouble once as he loaded the bases in the sixth inning, hitting Anthony Rizzo on a pitch on which he appeared to not check his swing. Dexter Fowler ended Sale’s no-hit bid with a clean, one-out single to left in the sixth, and Chris Denorfia drew a walk ahead of the Rizzo at-bat.

But Sale got out of it with a strikeout of Soler, who took a 1-2 slider just off the outside corner for a called third strike.

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox make ‘tough’ decision to DFA Emilio Bonifacio]

Starting the seventh inning with 104 pitches, Sale struck out Addison Russell on three offspeed pitches, got Starlin Castro on a 2-2 slider and blew Miguel Montero away with a 1-2 fastball that registered 95 mph.

Sale struck out eight of nine Cubs starters, including Kris Bryant three times.

He limited the Cubs to a hit, two walks and a hit batter over seven innings and threw strikes on 73 of 116 pitches.

“A couple of guys had tough days against him,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “A couple of guys he executed every pitch in every at-bat against him. On their end they just have to top their cap. He’s tough when he doesn’t hit spots, and when he does it’s almost impossible.”

It wasn’t much easier against Nate Jones, who struck out the side on 13 pitches in a scoreless eighth inning, including pinch-hitters Kyle Schwarber and Chris Coghlan. Jones’ final strikeout established a new franchise record for the White Sox in a nine-inning game as they bested the previous mark of 17 from Sept. 13, 2014.

“I wouldn’t say I knew the exact number,” Sale said. “But I knew they were getting up there. It’s fun. The crowd gets into it. People in the K Zone are going crazy for me. It’s a fun, fun time. You have balls leaving the park, guys hitting homers. It’s a fun atmosphere to play in.”

[MORE WHITE SOX: Quintana-Schwarber showdown turned tide in White Sox loss]

Abreu relishes the opportunity to play behind Sale. When Sale is as outstanding as he was against the Cubs, Abreu said the offense wants in the worst way to get him a victory. Abreu’s opposite-field drive in the third got that campaign started with Ramirez contributing in the fourth and Cabrera in the fifth.

The three-homer showing helped Sale to his 11th victory and netted Abreu a nice keepsake for his son.

“When Sale is on the mound he motivates you to do your best, and you’re not thinking about the other team, you’re thinking about your team and your teammates and that’s the only thing you have to take care,” Abreu said. “He’s so dominant.”

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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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: