White Sox

White Sox see Nate Jones tying bullpen together

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White Sox see Nate Jones tying bullpen together

GLENDALE, Ariz. — For the first time in three years, the White Sox will begin a season able to pencil Nate Jones into the middle of their bullpen mix. 

Jones is finally healthy after undergoing a back procedure and Tommy John surgery that wiped out over a season and a half, limiting him to two games in 2014 and 19 games in 2015. He has the dubious distinction of being one of 48 players in major league history to have an infinite ERA in a season — he allowed four runs in two games and didn’t record an out before hitting the disabled list in 2014 — but returned strong last summer, posting a 3.32 ERA in 19 games. 

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The White Sox bullpen that was solid in 2015 (a 3.67 ERA, 16th in MLB), but could come together nicely with a full season of the flamethrowing Jones pitching in the latter innings.  

“(He’s) an important piece,” manager Robin Ventura said. “For him, you have that power arm back there that you can feel comfortable using multiple days.”

Few players may be enjoying the slog of spring training more than Jones, who admitted last year’s rehab process from Tommy John surgery left him on his own most of the time. 

“It makes you feel actually a part of the team,” Jones said. “Last spring training, I’d be coming in early, doing my rehab and stuff like that, everybody’s going up to play games and I’m stuck here.”

But that loneliness of sorts paid off when Jones returned to the White Sox bullpen last August. The White Sox eased him into high leverage spots, but when he started pitching in more of those, he excelled. Jones appeared in five high-leverage spots in August and September and didn’t allow a run in any of them, totaling six strikeouts, two walks and three hits in 5 2/3 innings. 

“It made me very thankful of all the rehabbing that I did,” Jones said of his return last year. “It got me back to that point. It just let me know, hey, I can do it. I worked my butt off during the rehab and this is the end product of it and I can still contribute.” 

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Ventura said he’ll have better flexibility to use Jones and Zach Duke in tight spots late in games this year to set up closer David Robertson, with the benefit there being an ability to avoid taxing either pitcher. The trickle-down to the rest of the bullpen will be positive, too, with Jake Petricka, Zach Putnam, Matt Albers and whoever else staffs the relief corps able to stay fresh throughout the season. 

“You can give a guy a break — that becomes the biggest thing is you don’t have to overuse people in the bullpen,” Ventura said. “That becomes the tough fight. You need to have enough depth that you’re not using the same guys that are back there the entire time.” 

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.

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

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USA TODAY

Jose Abreu's got a new beard, but what he really deserves is a contract extension

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Sunday marked the first surprise of White Sox spring training, courtesy of first baseman Jose Abreu.

“This year, I’m going to try to steal more bases,” Abreu said through a translator.

This might have sounded like a joke, but Abreu was completely serious.

On paper, he’s not exactly Rickey Henderson. In 614 career games, Abreu has only six stolen bases. However, the slimmed-down first baseman does have some sneaky speed. His six triples last season ranked third in the American League. So there are some wheels to work with.

“I like the challenge. I think that’s a good challenge for me. I’m ready for it,” Abreu said.

How many steals are we talking about? A reporter asked sarcastically if a 30-30 season is in the offing? Abreu didn’t exactly shoot down the possibility.

“Who knows? When you fill your mind with positive things, maybe you can accomplish them,” Abreu said. “The mind of a human being works in a lot of different ways. If you fill your mind with good things, good things are going to happen.”

The morning began with Abreu walking to the hitting cages with his Cuban compadres Yoan Moncada and Luis Robert, who the White Sox signed last summer. He held his first workout on Sunday. At the White Sox hitters camp last month, Moncada took Robert under his wing, showing him the ropes, even telling Ricky Renteria, “I got him.”

But Sunday, Abreu was in charge, holding court with the three of them in the cage. Abreu watched closely as Robert hit off a tee, giving him pointers about his swing.

“I just like to help people,” Abreu said. “When I started to play at 16 in Cuba, I had a lot people who hounded me to get better. At the same point, I want to give back things that I’ve learned and pass that along to other people. That’s what I’m doing. I’m not expecting anything else. I’m just glad to help them and get them better.”

What kind of advice has he passed along to Robert?

“Since I came to this country, I learned quickly three keys to be a success: Be disciplined, work hard and always be on time. If you apply those three keys, I think you’re going to be good. Those are the three keys I’m trying to teach the new kids, the young guys,” Abreu said.

Abreu lost about 10 pounds during the offseason. He said he hopes to learn more English in 2018. He also arrived at spring training sporting a scruffy beard which he grew while he was in Cuba so he “could be incongnito.”

Abreu likes his new look. Moncada thinks he should shave it off.

“If the organization doesn’t say anything, I’m just going to keep it,” Abreu said.

Well, so much for that.

Moments after Abreu spoke with the media, Renteria told reporters that Abreu will have to “clean it up a bit.”

The two will find a compromise. Come to think of it, maybe Abreu and the White Sox should do the same about a contract extension in the near future.

Yes, he’ll be 33 when his contract expires in two years, but there have been no signs of a decline with his performance. Instead, Abreu is only getting better both offensively and defensively.

Heck, now he wants to steal bases, too.

After Renteria, Abreu is the leader of this team. He commands ultimate respect inside the clubhouse. He’s become another coach to Moncada, Robert and others. He’s a huge brick in the present and too big of an influence and cornerstone to not have around in the future.

“I hope to play my entire career in the majors with the White Sox,” Abreu said Sunday. “But I can’t control that.”

At some point, a decision will have to be made whether to keep Abreu or trade him. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: What will bring more value to the White Sox, getting a high-end prospect or two in return not knowing if they’ll ever succeed in the majors? Or keeping your best player, the heart and soul of your team, allowing him to show your future stars the way while they’re developing in the major leagues?

Seems like an easy decision to me.