White Sox

White Sox roll with punches, get extra-inning walk-off win vs. Rangers

White Sox roll with punches, get extra-inning walk-off win vs. Rangers

Jose Abreu is stranded in the midst of the worst slump of his career, but he still managed to come through when the White Sox needed it most.

The Cuban slugger flicked an 11th-inning walk-off single past five infielders and into left field to earn the White Sox a 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers in front of 20,182 on Saturday afternoon at U.S. Cellular Field. Abreu came to the plate in the 11th with just two hits in his previous 35 at-bats.

Abreu’s game-winner capped an up-and-down day at 35th and Shields that saw the White Sox squander three brilliant scoring opportunities, David Robertson blow a save and Todd Frazier get robbed of what looked like a walk-off home run. But all those mood swings didn’t sap the White Sox of the kind of energy they needed to win the near-four-hour affair.

“I'm very confident that I'm going to produce, hit to my level and my offense,” Abreu said through a translator. “I need to work and I know I need to work, but I thank them (teammates) for the confidence also."

Rangers reliever Nick Martinez hadn’t pitched in 11 days before entering the game in the 11th, and it showed. The right-hander couldn’t find the strike zone, sandwiching an Austin Jackson hit by pitch between walks to Dioner Navarro and Adam Eaton, which loaded the bases with nobody out. Jimmy Rollins worked a 3-2 count but grounded out before Abreu punched his game-winning single past third baseman Adrian Beltre.

The White Sox had plenty of opportunities earlier in the game to break things open but weren’t able to do much in support of left-hander Carlos Rodon, who allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings.

Slumping designated hitter Avisail Garcia came to hit with runners on first and second in both the fourth and sixth innings; he flew out the first time and struck out the second. Avila followed with an infield single in the fourth and a walk in the sixth to load the bases in each instance, but Austin Jackson popped out and grounded out to end both innings with gloomy symmetry.

After the Rangers took the lead in the seventh, Frazier launched a game-tying home run into the left field bullpen in the bottom of the eighth. Navarro, who entered Saturday’s game hitting .069, temporarily put the White Sox ahead with an RBI single later in the inning.

The White Sox had two chances to extend the lead, but Jackson’s squeeze didn’t work — Garcia was thrown out at the plate on it — and Navarro was easily cut down on Delino DeShields’ throw home on Eaton’s single to center to end the inning.

Those missed opportunities came back to haunt the White Sox in the top of the ninth, as Robertson issued a leadoff walk to Ian Desmond, who advanced to third on a stolen base and Navarro throwing error. Andrus lifted a fly ball to center plenty deep enough to score Desmond, tying the game at 3 and earning Robertson a blown save.

Things seemed to really turn against the White Sox in the bottom of the ninth inning. Rollins led off with a single and raced to third on a stolen base and throwing error but was ordered back to first base because Abreu’s bat clipped catcher Bryan Holaday. Abreu then hit into a double play.

Frazier, though, threatened to end the game in regulation when he ripped a fly ball deep to right. Rangers rookie outfielder Nomar Mazara, though, made a spectacular catch to rob the White Sox third baseman of what looked like a walk-off home run, sending the game into extra innings.

“I thought it had a shot,” Frazier said. “I definitely got all of it. One of those things, you hope and pray kind of thing. Tell it to get over the wall, but sometimes he makes a good play.

“Tip your cap, and we weren’t down and out. We knew we had to come back.”

The White Sox did just that, albeit two innings later. It’s only taken the White Sox 18 games to get to a dozen wins a year after needing 28 games to reach that same mark.

Ventura lauded the resiliency of his team, which is now 5-3 in one-run games, for its ability to sustain a few different kind of gut punches and still emerge with a win. Things aren’t clicking yet offensively for the White Sox, but this lineup had plenty of good at-bats after the eighth inning and it wound up paying off.

“Every once in a while you get the feeling it's not going your way but again, these guys have a lot of fight in the later innings,” Ventura said. “They find a way to come through. If you want to put us on, that's another thing that happens with this group is that they're willing to work in a pack so it's a nice group that's going. None of them are necessarily hot — it's just they continually move the line and keep going and grind out at-bats."

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: