White Sox

White Sox setup man Nate Jones has developed into more than 'regular guy'

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White Sox setup man Nate Jones has developed into more than 'regular guy'

CLEVELAND -- When it comes to his recovery from elbow surgery, Nate Jones feels as if he’s like any other pitcher in the big leagues.

Now two years and two weeks removed from Tommy John surgery, the White Sox right-hander can be used on three straight days. He can pitch multiple innings. About the only thing the White Sox won’t do is ask Jones to warmup twice in the bullpen during the same game.

It’s a spot Jones wasn’t sure he’d ever reach when he returned to the majors last August. But here he is and look what Jones has developed into.

Not only has Jones -- 5-2 with three saves and a 2.13 ERA in 55 innings -- continued to strike out more than a hitter per inning, he has harnessed his command of the zone and drastically improved his walk rate.

“Right away last year I was kind of battling a little bit of soreness each time I threw,” Jones said. “But the further we got away from the surgery the better I recovered. This year I haven’t had any problems or major soreness or anything like that. I can tell how much more quickly I bounce back than right out of the gate last year.

“I’m just a regular guy.”

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]​

Perhaps on the injury front he’s a regular guy, but Jones has developed into a formidable late-innings pitcher. Several major league scouts said Jones’ improved command of the fastball and slider has turned him into an outstanding setup man and potentially a closer.

Headed into this season, Jones walked 3.58 walks batters per nine innings, including four per in 2012. This season, Jones has averaged 2 walks per nine. He attributes it to applying some of the lessons he learned early in his career and credits many of his former veteran teammates for helping him to make the adjustment.

“It’s always good to have that foundation,” Jones said. “I’ve just learned what they taught me and applied it to now because in ’14 and ’15 I had a lot of time to think about it.

“Just attacking hitters and getting ahead with strike one. That’s the biggest thing, if you get ahead and stay ahead you can attack and go after the hitters instead of, if you’re falling behind, you have to throw strikes and they know that and that’s when they start hitting.”

Jones is on pace to appear in a career-high 76 games this season.

He broke through the scar tissue last season and hasn’t experienced the same soreness when he’s on the mound in 2016. Still, White Sox manager Robin Ventura remains cautious with Jones. He said one of the reasons he doesn’t like to ask him to warm up more than once in the bullpen is he doesn’t want to jeopardize Jones’ career.

“You’re always going to be very careful, especially the guy who is high velocity and has the ability to do the things and be available as much as Nate is,” Ventura said. “So you are careful, as far as if he feels anything or is tired, you monitor his usage.”

Jones is pleased to be in this position. He wasn’t sure what to expect as he rehabbed from his July 30, 2014 surgery. He just trusted what doctors, trainers and teammates who’d had Tommy John told him and worked hard.

Now he has seen the benefits.

“You’re always wondering is it ever going to go away? Or am I going to be sore throughout my career constantly?” Jones said. “That goes through your mind a little. But you’ve got to trust the process and keep working hard at it and it has worked out this year.

It’s a long process. Trust the process and you get out of it what you put into it, so bust your ass every day and it will show in the end.”

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.