White Sox

White Sox top Padres as Alexei Ramirez has emotional return

alexei.png

White Sox top Padres as Alexei Ramirez has emotional return

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Veterans only occasionally are asked to go on road trips in spring training.

Alexei Ramirez requested this one.

The former White Sox and now San Diego Padres shortstop caught up with former teammates and coaches and received a warm welcome from the Camelback Ranch crowd on Sunday after he made the easy 18-minute drive over from Peoria, Ariz.

Ramirez went 1-for-2 with a walk on what he described as an emotional day.

Jose Abreu and Todd Frazier homered and Carlos Rodon spun three scoreless innings in an 8-1 White Sox victory.

“Really emotional,” Ramirez said through an interpreter. “There were eight years of defending, 100 percent energy, eight years of being the first to show up and work hard every day. Going out and seeing all my teammates, seeing (bullpen coach Mark Salas), seeing Robin Ventura, seeing everyone. Yeah, it was emotional.”

Ramirez experienced ups and downs throughout a long offseason.

First came the bad news — the White Sox declined their $10 million club option on Ramirez in November. Then they made no attempts to sign him. Ramirez said the Padres’ one-year, $4-million offer was the only one he received this offseason.

Parting with the White Sox after eight seasons wasn’t easy.

“I was at my home when they called and said, ‘Thanks, but they weren't going to pick up my option,’” Ramirez said. “It hurt because I spent so much time in Chicago and formed somewhat of a family. At the same time, that's baseball. I'm in San Diego now and ready for that opportunity and am ready to go.”

But Ramirez had a chance to travel back home to Cuba twice in between his departure from the White Sox and joining the Padres in January. He had the chance to see family he hadn’t for eight years since he left. The second trip was part of Major League Baseball’s goodwill tour in December.

“It was really great,” Ramirez said. “After eight years, you can imagine.”

It’s just as easy to understand why Ramirez wanted to come see his old teammates in Glendale on Sunday. Ramirez headed to shallow center field about 45 minutes before first pitch to talk to Avisail Garcia and Jose Abreu. Infielder Carlos Sanchez then raced over from the home dugout to join the conversation. Ramirez also received a nice round of applause from the announced crowd of more than 8,000 when he batted in the first inning. The shortstop briefly paused before he stepped in and waved to the crowd.

“There are too many memories to count, especially when I first got there in (2008) against Cleveland,” Ramirez said. “There are too many memories to mention. If I had to pick one, it wouldn’t do it justice.

“I’m extremely thankful, not just for me, but my family as well. Again, I want to say thanks. But in the end I’m just very thankful.”

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

hahn-pod.jpg
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: