White Sox

17-year-old Franklin grabs gold in first event

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17-year-old Franklin grabs gold in first event

From Comcast SportsNet

LONDON (AP) -- Missy Franklin stared out on the horde of reporters, suddenly sounding very much like a high school senior-to-be. "I don't like being up here alone," she said nervously.

Then, just like that, she turned on a big smile and worked the room like a pro.

Thanks to this Colorado teenager, America's swim hopes are back on track at the Olympics.

Michael Phelps has yet to win a gold medal, and Ryan Lochte's star has dimmed just a bit. So it was Franklin providing a much-needed boost to swimming's powerhouse nation, coming back less than 14 minutes after swimming a semifinal heat to win the first gold medal of what figures to be a dazzling career.

"Indescribable," the 17-year-old Franklin said after rallying to win the 100-meter backstroke Monday. "I still can't believe that happened. I don't even know what to think. I saw my parents' reaction on the screen and I just started bawling. I can't even think right now."

After finishing up the semis of the 200 freestyle, she hopped out of the pool and headed to the diving well for a quick warmdown. She didn't even have time to make it to the practice pool, not when her bigger event was coming right up.

Even Phelps was amazed at Franklin's stamina, saying he had never done back-to-back races that close together at such a major meet. His quickest turnaround was about a half-hour.

"She's a racer and she knows what to do," Phelps said.

Matt Grevers kept the gold medals coming for the U.S. in rat-a-tat fashion, following up Franklin's win with one of his own in the men's 100 back. For good measure, Nick Thoman made it a 1-2 finish for the red, white and blue.

Rebecca Soni nearly pulled out a third U.S. gold, rallying furiously on the return leg of the 100 breaststroke. But she couldn't quite catch blazing Lithuanian Ruta Meilutyte, a gold medalist at the tender age of 15.

Good thing for the U.S. that Franklin and the other Americans are coming through.

Phelps missed the podium in his 2012 Olympic debut, and Lochte has turned in two straight disappointing performances after opening the games with a dominant win in the 400 individual medley. He finished fourth and off the podium Monday night in the 200 freestyle, which France's Yannick Agnel won by a full body length against a field with gold medalists galore.

On Sunday, Lochte anchored the U.S. in the 4x100 free relay, taking over with a seemingly comfortable lead. But Agnel chased him down on the final leg, giving France the gold.

Now, another defeat.

"I did my best," Lochte said. "I guess sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. I gave it 110 percent. There's probably some things I messed up on, but you live and learn. (Agnel is) a great racer. There's no doubt about it. He's quick and he showed it last night and tonight. I'm happy for him. He did good."

Franklin, who was rattled less than two weeks before the Olympics by the Aurora theater shooting not far from her home, barely advanced from the 200 free semis. She qualified for Tuesday night's final with the eighth-fastest time, but clearly she was saving something for the race that really mattered.

She's still got five more events to go, having started her Olympics with a relay bronze and leaving plenty of time to come away from these games as America's big star in the post-Phelps era.

The winningest Olympian ever plans to retire after these games.

Australia's Emily Seebohm, the top qualifier, led at the turn and was under world-record pace, but Franklin showed a remarkable finishing kick. With her arms whirling and size-13 feet pounding the water, the 6-foot-1 swimmer passed the Aussie in the final 25 meters and lunged toward the wall for a winning time of 58.33 seconds.

She broke into a big smile but was clearly exhausted, her head dropping back against the wall. Seebohm settled for silver in 58.68 and Japan's Aya Terakawa took bronze in 58.83.

"You never know until you see that scoreboard, so I was just going as fast as I could until I got my hand on the wall," Franklin said. "It was 110 percent effort, and all the work paid off."

The 6-foot-8 Grevers pulled off a similar rally on his return lap, winning the 100 back in an Olympic-record 52.16 -- the fifth straight games, dating to Atlanta in 1996, that the U.S. men have won the backstroke. Thoman joined his teammate on the medal podium at 52.97, a gold-silver finish they were thinking about all along and reiterated just before the final.

David Marsh, Thoman's coach, brought it up right moments before they went out to the pool, saying "1-2."

Grevers said he and Thoman knew they "weren't jinxing anything," and they were right, though Grevers didn't notice right away that Americans took the top two spots.

"I must be selfish because it took me a good 10 seconds to realize he got second," he quipped. "That's something I should do right away. But when I noticed, that moment became much more special. To know that we can go 1-2 in that event, again really shows the USA's dominance in backstroke right now when we're able to step up."

Japan's Ryosuke Irie was third in 52.97.

"I've been watching the Olympics for as long as I can remember," Thoman said. "The first one I really remember is the '92 Barcelona Games and just watching guys back then. Seeing Lenny Krayzelburg, my idol, and then Aaron Piersol, again my idol, who I got to train with for a little while. Just being able to carry on that tradition, it's a great thing."

Agnel showed that his brilliant swim on the Olympic relay was no fluke. The baby-faced, 6-foot-6 Frenchman did it again in the 200 free, leading from start to finish in perhaps the most star-studded race of these games -- even without Phelps, who passed up a chance to defend his Olympic title.

That might have been a good move by Phelps. It was hard to see anyone beating Agnel on this night, as he pulled away to win by a full body length in 1 minute, 43.14 seconds. No one came close to challenging him, and he looked just as strong at the end as he did at the beginning.

"I really didn't expect that time," Agnel said. "I had a race plan in my head, but this is above my expectations and hopes. I'm delighted. It's a childhood dream come true. I had to start quickly over the first 100 meters. I did that. Then I worked on keeping my speed and putting all my guts into the last 50. I don't know what to say. It worked."

French President Francois Hollande came to the mixed zone to congratulate Agnel, shaking his hand warmly in the chaos of reporters and cameras. He was dwarfed by the swimmer, who gave the country its third swimming gold of the games -- its most ever.

And there's still five nights to go at the pool.

"Remarkable, two gold medals two nights in a row," Hollande said. "It's a big reward for French swimming, a proud moment for him and encouraging for the whole Olympic team."

South Korea's Park Tae-hwan and China's Sun Yang tied for the silver in 1:44.93. But Lochte, the reigning world champion who seemed poised to have a huge Olympics just 48 hours earlier, faded out of the medals. So did world-record holder Paul Biedermann of Germany.

Soni tried to make it three in a row, but Meilutyte dashed those hopes. Competing for the first time on a major international stage, the 15-year-old showed her strong performances in the prelims and semis were no fluke.

She built a big lead on the outward lap, then held off the 2008 Olympic silver medalist on the return. Meilutyte touched in 1:05.47, while Soni's rally came up eight-hundredths of the second short. Japan took yet another bronze with Satomi Suzuki in 1:06.46.

Meilutyte broke into tears on the medal stand, the enormity of her accomplishment at such a young age finally sinking in. She became the first Lithuanian to win a swimming medal, and took her country's first gold in any sport since a shooting gold in 2004.

"I can't believe it," she said. "It's too much for me. I can't really say anything. It was hard and difficult."

Soni swept the 100 and 200 breaststrokes at last year's world championships, and was hoping to do the same in London. Now, she'll look to defend her title in the 200 breast.

"I'm a little disappointed," she said. "I knew it was going to come down to the last five meters and I wish I had five more meters to get to that finish. It was a great race overall."

Lochte is looking more and more like a swimmer who took on too much of a workload. He's already raced six times in three events covering a total of 1,500 meters over the first three days in London. He has three more events to turn things around, but definitely has the look of a tired swimmer.

If nothing else, it shows just how unbelievable Phelps was when he won a record eight gold medals in 2008.

"To win six of them is a really hard thing to accomplish," Grevers said. "Your body's going to get tired. It's not just a physical strain, it's an emotional strain to try to get up and compete every time."

Phelps didn't have any medal races on this night, but he did advance comfortably through the prelims and semis of the 200 butterfly, going into Tuesday's final with the fourth-best time.

This will be his second attempt at becoming the first male swimmer to win the same individual event at three straight Olympics. He failed in the 400 medley, and Japan's Kosuke Kitajima came up short of the same feat in the 100 breaststroke.

As for Franklin, someone noticed afterward that she wasn't wearing her medal.

She pulled it out of her pocket and marveled, "Isn't it pretty."

Then, she showed her age again. There's still one more year to go at Regis Jesuit High.

"My junior year was awesome," Franklin said. "I can't wait to go back to Regis!"

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields, Joakim Soria and some other potential midseason trade candidates for the White Sox

Another day, another quality start for James Shields.

The White Sox once more didn’t win a Shields start. Despite an increasingly good-looking season stat line, Shields can’t seem to rack up many wins, with just two to his name on the season. But of course, wins are not exactly the most important barometer in this rebuilding campaign.

Speaking of the rebuild, the White Sox are getting closer to the trade deadline, it’s about a month and a half away. And Shields’ continued success could have Rick Hahn’s phone ringing as July 31 creeps closer. After six innings and three runs in Sunday’s loss to the visiting Detroit Tigers, Shields has seven quality starts in his last 10 outings,

After last season’s struggles that ended in a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs surrendered, getting anything for Shields might’ve seemed a bit of a fantasy. But Shields has delivered, especially since the end of a rocky April.

“It’s very important to try to eat as many innings as you possibly can,” Shields said of his consistent efforts of late. “Early on in the season, we were ruining our bullpen by not going deep into games. My main focus is to go as deep as I possibly can. … Consistency’s the name of the game.”

Does it make him one of the most attractive names on the market? No, probably not. Is it going to fetch a highly ranked prospect? No, probably not. But it might fetch something, and in a season where guys believed to be afterthoughts like Dylan Covey and Daniel Palka are working their way into the conversation about the White Sox future, who wouldn’t want something added to this rebuilding effort?

And Shields isn’t the only White Sox player who could bring something back.

The bullpen was stocked with potential sign-and-flip guys over the offseason, and a few of those veteran arms have had good runs that could earn them a similar fate to the bulk of last year’s relief corps. Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, David Robertson, Dan Jennings and Tyler Clippard were all dealt away last summer. Could Hahn employ a similar strategy this season?

The bullpen hasn’t been quite as good as it was last year, which made all of those players attractive additions for contending teams around the league. But veterans like Joakim Soria, Luis Avilan, Bruce Rondon, Xavier Cedeno — guys who hoped to rediscover some old magic — could still draw interest.

Soria owns a 3.12 ERA. Avilan’s is at 3.10. Cedeno hasn’t given up a run in his six relief appearances. Rondon has shown blow-em-away stuff at times. It’s been a nice recovery for some of these sign-and-flip veterans.

“They’ve had an opportunity to get their chances to work on different things and become really effective performers,” manager Rick Renteria said of some of his veteran relievers prior to Sunday’s game. “I think Joakim has risen his level of game back what he was pre last couple years, I think he’s reinvented himself a little bit. He has an up-down breaking ball now, he’s continuing to attack the strike zone, he’s throwing 93 miles an hour with his fastball, he’s commanding the zone. He’s doing everything he can to be as good a closer as he was in the past. His history and his experience also allow him some confidence to be put in situations to close out ballgames.”

Soria could perhaps draw the most interest because closers are often in demand in July. But last year’s trade-a-thon showed that teams are willing to trade prospects away for relief help of any kind. Many of the return pieces in those deals might not get rebuild-loving prospect followers thrilled. Casey Gillaspie and Ryan Cordell haven’t exactly put their names at the forefront of the discussion about 2020 and beyond. But remember that Blake Rutherford came over in the deal that sent Robertson and Kahnle out of town (Todd Frazier went to the New York Yankees in that trade, too). So an acquisition that could improve the rebuild can most definitely happen, even with middle relievers.

There’s no guarantee that any of these guys, be it Shields in the rotation or any of the arms out in the bullpen, will get traded or even draw significant interest. But for a team in the White Sox position, you’d have to assume they’d be open to making a deal and getting something to add to this rebuilding process.

Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt

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AP

Eloy Jimenez reminds Frank Thomas of Vlad Guerrero, and more rebuild thoughts from the Big Hurt

Here’s a comp that’ll get White Sox fans really excited. It’s a Hall of Famer saying that the organization’s top-ranked prospect reminds him of another Hall of Famer.

“The kid Eloy (Jimenez), I’ve really watched him a lot. He’s a tremendous (player),” Frank Thomas said. “He reminds me of a young Vlad (Guerrero) that can cover the whole zone and use the whole field. I’m interested in seeing how he progresses.”

Eloy a young Vladdy, eh?

Don’t tell actual young Vladdy that — Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is ranked one spot ahead of Jimenez on MLB Pipeline’s list of the best prospects in baseball — but that’s one heck of a comp for a player that White Sox fans are already immeasurably excited about.

Thomas was back on the South Side on Sunday to join Hawk Harrelson in the broadcast booth for the latter’s sendoff season. He spoke a lot about what Harrelson meant to him and the White Sox, but he also answered questions about the team’s ongoing rebuild. Thomas has kept a close eye both in his roles as an analyst for FOX and someone who will always be invested in this team.

“It’s Chicago, and we’re used to winning,” Thomas said when he was asked if the White Sox needed to undergo such a process. “You normally get away with this in a smaller market, but you’ve got to understand they’ve taken their time with it. They wasted a lot of money for a five-year period trying to continue to be successful the way we were in the past and it wasn’t working.

“The game has changed. The game has totally changed. It’s a different ballgame now. It’s all about the youth. … The hardest part they’re going to have, though, is figuring out who’s going to be here and who’s not going to be here because over the next couple years they’ve got so many young talented players in Double-A and Triple-A that someone could actually force some of these guys out. It’s going to be a hard decision what they’re going to have to do.”

That’s the good problem Rick Hahn and his front office would like to have.

While fan buy-in to the rebuilding effort has been tremendous, there are some who will continue to question the willing suffering through losing seasons at the major league level while the contending team of the future develops in the minor leagues. But if you look at the teams that have won and played in the World Series in recent seasons — and even seasons long past — the process almost seems mandatory if you want to reach that level.

“It is,” Thomas said. “I’ve watched it firsthand. I first saw it with Cleveland when I was playing. Cleveland did it. Then you saw the Royals do it. You saw Houston do it, and they’re tearing it up with that youth. There’s been some other teams that have had a lot of success with it, too. I think Billy Beane has been great with it in Oakland for many, many years. They just haven’t had the luxury of keeping it together and going for the World Series, but he continues to create young superstars and basically trading them off for whatever the organization needs.”

Thomas, the greatest hitter in White Sox history, was also asked about the greatest hitter on the White Sox right now, Jose Abreu. Abreu’s future is the topic of much conversation surrounding this team, what with his contract running out at the end of the 2019 season, just when the White Sox hope to be fielding a perennial contender.

Abreu has been remarkably consistent — and one of just three players ever to hit at least 25 homers and drive in at least 100 runs in each of his first four seasons — but Thomas thinks there’s a side of Abreu we still have yet to see.

“I just don’t think we’ve seen the best of him,” Thomas said. “That’s because it’s a youth movement and the protection’s been up and down for him in that lineup. I’ve seen him be inconsistent at times, but I think he’s a much better player than that. But I understand when you’re not winning every day and it’s not as motivating because losing’s tough on everybody. But the guy’s an incredible player, an incredible hitter.

“I think the next couple of years we’ll see the best of him if he’s still here. I think this guy has a chance to be one of the great ones.”

With one last question about the modern-day White Sox, Thomas was asked about manager Rick Renteria, who he raved about. But with Renteria’s recent history with the Cubs, when he was replaced with Joe Maddon right before the North Siders started their phase of contention, he has yet to be the manager of a team with expectations. The plan is that he soon will be, and Thomas is interested to see what happens when that becomes the case.

“I think he’s done a hell of a job. I really like Ricky a lot,” Thomas said. “But who knows what they’re going to do in the future. When this team becomes what they think it’s going to be, either you get it done or you don’t. That’s just what it’s going to be. That’s the way Jerry’s handled it for many, many years.

“We’ve had some decisions that weren’t all happiness at times, but it’s about winning once they get their team here. I hope it’s Ricky because he’s done a hell of a rebuild job with the Cubs, he did a hell of a rebuild job here. It’s just time for him to get a good team out on the field and see what he really can do. I’m hoping he gets a chance of having a full team to put out there for 162 games and see what he can do.”