White Sox

White Sox see Chris Sale’s leadership emerge from losing streak

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White Sox see Chris Sale’s leadership emerge from losing streak

As the White Sox continue to plummet to the bottom of the American League, manager Robin Ventura has seen at least one positive emerge from his team’s eight-game losing streak.

After flirting with a perfect game and striking out 14 over eight shutout innings Friday — and after David Robertson blew the save by allowing two runs in the ninth — Sale defended his teammates and proclaimed his club’s skid would come to a stop soon.

The White Sox offense scored a lone run on Friday — coming on a Tyler Flowers home run — and haven’t supported its pitching staff recently, posting a .431 OPS over the last seven days. This is a team that’s last in baseball in FanGraphs’ defensive and baserunning ratings. Only three position players (Jose Abreu, Geovany Soto and Adam LaRoche) have a positive WAR.

[MORE: White Sox lose eighth straight despite Chris Sale's 14 strikeouts]

With all that in mind, Ventura has come away impressed with how Sale — who’s been arguably the best pitcher in baseball over the last month — has handled his team’s malaise.

“The way it’s going, it’s easy to sit there and point fingers,” Ventura said. “That’s his maturity level. His leadership qualities are coming out. You are looking at a guy that is in his fourth year of starting. This is what is taking shape. This is the guy that he has become.”

The White Sox have both of Sale’s starts by 2-1 scorelines on this losing streak, which began right after the team swept a three-game home series against the first-place Astros. The 26-year-old left-hander joined Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers in baseball history with 10 or more strikeouts in five consecutive games. He’s averaging 12.08 strikeouts per nine innings, putting him on pace to be the first starter since Johnson in 2001 to average more than a dozen strikeouts per nine innings in a season.

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And yet, it hasn’t been good enough. Sale’s done his part to be the stopper in the White Sox rotation, the kind of guy whose presence on the mound should mean a losing streak never gets past five games.

Sale knows he’s in Chicago for the long haul, with his incredibly team-friendly contract running through 2017 with club options for 2018 and 2019. He’s not out of his mid-20’s but is already in his sixth major league season, No. 4 as a starter. And he’s developed into not only the ace of the White Sox rotation, but a guy who will support his teammates in the clubhouse even if they’re not supporting him with runs on the field.

“It’s impressive,” Ventura said. “Not only the numbers that he’s putting up but in difficult times, and he’s had difficult times just like (Jose Quintana) has had and this is the result of it. You are seeing a team guy first and he goes out and pitches. It’s also helping with his pitching. It’s what he can control.”

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

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AP

Strikeout machine Alec Hansen wants to be the best ... OK, one of the best

GLENDALE, Ariz. — On a day when Jose Abreu and Yoan Moncada took live batting practice for the first time this spring, off in the distance was a lanky White Sox prospect standing in the outfield grass.

But Alec Hansen was doing more than shagging flies. He was watching both hitters very closely.

“I was looking to see how much pop they had,” Hansen said of Abreu and Moncada. “I kind of look at that to see the difference in power between minor league ball and the major leagues. It’s nice to see it’s not a huge difference. That makes me feel a bit more comfortable.”

At 6-foot-8 — actually 6-foot-8-and-a-half, according to his spring training physical — Hansen is a big man with big plans for his baseball career. He might be quiet on the outside, but he has booming expectations for himself on the inside.

“I want to be the best,” Hansen said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

The best? The very best?

That’s what Hansen aspires to become, though later in our conversation, he did dial back a notch, settling for becoming “one of the best.”

Either is fine with manager Ricky Renteria, who is overseeing these uber-confident White Sox prospects and accepts their lofty expectations.

“I think their mindset is where it’s supposed to be,” Renteria said. “None of these kids are concerned or consumed with the possibility of failure. Much more they’re consuming themselves with the understanding that they might hit some stumbling blocks, but they’re going to have a way to avoid overcoming them and push forward and be the best that they can be.”

In his first full season in the White Sox organization, Hansen led the minor leagues with 191 strikeouts. He’s proud of that accomplishment but admitted something: He’s not that impressed because he didn’t do it where it really matters — in the major leagues.

When you watch Hansen pitch, it’s easy to see that the talent is there. His coaches and teammates rave about his ability. With his enormous size and power arm, he is loaded with strengths.  

Though there is one weakness that Hansen acknowledges he needs to work on.

“Sometimes I have a tendency to think too much and worry. I think worrying is the worst thing that I do just because I want to be perfect,” Hansen said. “I think everyone wants to be perfect, some more than others, and I worry about things getting in the way of achieving perfection.”

To Hansen, that doesn’t mean throwing a perfect game. He actually takes it one step further.

He wants to strikeout every single hitter he faces.

“I love striking people out,” Hansen said. “Not having to rely on anyone else and just getting the job done myself and knowing that the hitter can’t get a hit off me. That’s a great feeling. That they can’t put it in play. Like a line drive out. That’s terrible.”

At some point, Hansen will have to lower these impossible expectations for himself. This is an imperfect game. There’s no place for nine-inning, 27-strikeout performances. Players end up in the Hall of Fame because they learn how to succeed with failure.

In the meantime, Hansen is here in big league camp watching and learning anything and everything.

“I’m a good observer. I listen. I don’t really talk too much. I’m a pretty quiet guy. I like to sit back and observe and see how these guys go about their business. Just trying to be at their level, hopefully one day surpass them.”

Surpass?

“It’s kind of hard to surpass some of these guys. I mean, they’re at the tip-top, like the pinnacle of the sport,” Hansen said. “I guess you could say, to get on that level and then be one of the best in the league.”

He might be on his way.

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

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USA TODAY

White Sox free up spot on 40-man roster by outrighting Dylan Covey

The White Sox freed up a spot on their 40-man roster Sunday, outrighting pitcher Dylan Covey to Triple-A Charlotte.

Covey pitched in 18 games last season, making 12 starts for the South Siders. Things did not go well, with Covey turning in an 0-7 record and a 7.71 ERA in 70 innings.

While there was an outside chance that Covey could have provided at least some starting-pitching depth heading into the 2018 season, the team's recent additions of Miguel Gonzalez and Hector Santiago — not to mention Covey's results from last season — wiped out that idea.

At the moment, the White Sox starting rotation figures to look like this by Opening Day: James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer, with Santiago seeming like a good option to provide depth as the long man in the bullpen.