White Sox

White Sox: Robin Ventura accepting of his critics

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White Sox: Robin Ventura accepting of his critics

The White Sox rapidly changed the narrative Monday evening, ripping through a furious ninth-inning rally to beat Cleveland, 4-3. Seven consecutive hitters reached base off Indians closer Cody Allen, the last of whom was Melky Cabrera, whose deep fly ball plopped into the left-center field grass at U.S. Cellular Field for a walk-off single.

Without that comeback, the storyline would’ve been about another listless performance by the White Sox lineup and a team that continued to underperform expectations, even only 12 games into the season. Instead, the scene after the game featured a jubilant White Sox clubhouse and a jovial manager.

For a team that added three big-name players in the winter and touted legitimate playoff aspirations heading into the 2015 season, Ventura knows the criticism surrounding his decisions will be heightened. That turned out to be the case last week when Adam Eaton failed to lay down a bunt with two strikes Wednesday in Cleveland and the club ran into some confusion in failing to challenge a controversial play in Saturday’s defeat in Detroit.

“That goes with the territory, that’s part of the job,” Ventura said before Monday’s game. “The focus for me is what we’re doing and how to make it better and turn it around. Stuff on the outside is always going to be there regardless. Even if we’re winning there will be criticism and things like that. The focus is in here and trying to turn it around, not kind of the outside stuff.”

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When asked if the organization was pleased with Ventura as its manager, general manger Rick Hahn said that “absolutely” was the case.

“I get it. It’s part of the nature of the gig,” Hahn said. “There’s an in-game strategy element that everyone — and it’s part of the great part of the game that everyone at home, everyone in the paper or on the radio, whatever — can have an opinion on and perhaps have a better point of view than the manager in the heat of the moment. There is also a personnel-management side of the game that most people aren’t privy to.”

Hahn said the White Sox haven’t lost sight of their big-picture view that Ventura is a good manager of the personalities in the clubhouse. There will be disagreements with the minutiae of the job throughout the season, Hahn said, but he added that’s the case with any front office-manager relationship.

The White Sox have confidence in Ventura to stay the course with the roster he has. It took eight innings Monday night, but the fourth-year manager’s faith paid off.

“You sit there and think things through and different things you could do to either relieve stress or get a guy going,” Ventura said. “We do a lot of those things, kicking it around, but in the end the trust is in these guys and what they can do.”

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: