White Sox

Belinelli hopes shooting slump is over

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Belinelli hopes shooting slump is over

SOUTH BEND, IND. For Marco Belinelli, the seven points he scored in Friday evenings Bulls win over the Pacers were more symbolic than anything else. Known as a sharpshooter over the course of his NBA career, the native of Italy has been mired in a slump the entire preseason.

So when he hit an improbable three-pointer to beat the shot clock in the first half of the exhibition finale the shooting guards first of the preseason it felt like a weight was lifted off his back. He would later go on to hit a contested fadeaway jumper out of the mid-post, then a layup off a sharp cut in the second half and played, at the least, determined defense.

This is a good team, so I just want to be the best player that I can be. But its important tonight to me that we won the game and I hope that were going to be ready for the first regular-season game, Belinelli said afterwards. I was really pissed off, especially when a shooter cant score the ball. Its terrible, but at the same time, I try to be positive, work on my shot and be ready to score the ball. Its important to me to go on the court and be real aggressive. Thats the most important thing.

I just tried to be more aggressive. I was watching the games, the last couple games that I didnt play real well, so I wasnt aggressive. That was one of my mistakes, so tonight, I went to the court, tried to be aggressive, take my shot, take the foul or do something for my teammates and be aggressive on defense. I think that tonight its important that we won the game and every day is better, he continued. That was crazy because I missed the first three-point shot when I was wide-open, but I scored a three-point shot that was crazy. But I think that was important for me, for my confidence, so for now, everythings going to be better.

Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau continues to insist that hes less concerned about Belinellis shooting than his overall play. Still, he has to be relieved that on a team without a plethora of outside marksmen, let alone defensive magnet Derrick Rose to attract attention, that Belinelli took a step in the right direction.

I dont think hes been playing poorly. I think he hasnt shot well so far. But he will. We know that. Hes already proven that. I think hes made several big plays off the dribble for us and defensively, hes improving each day, Thibodeau explained. He still has a long way to go, but hes got to be confident in his ability to play well on the nights on which he doesnt shoot the ball well and I think he can.

Belinelli hopes Friday was just the start of bigger and better things for him, as he adjusts to the best NBA team hes played for during his career. He admitted that hed been overly preoccupied with his errant shot.

Maybe thats why, because I didnt think too much. Maybe thats one of the reasons, he said. We played well. We passed the ball amazing, we played defense and tonight we took a lot of rebounds, so tonight, especially against this team, that was really important. Now, finally were going to start the season Wednesday.

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

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USA TODAY

All Star of the present Jose Abreu trying to help Yoan Moncada become the All Star of the future for White Sox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — While the White Sox wait for their All Stars of the future to develop, Jose Abreu is representing the club at the All-Star Game in the nation’s capital.

Abreu, elected by the fans to be the American League’s starting first baseman Tuesday night, might represent the White Sox present, but he’s a key part of their future, as well. While his contract situation remains a mystery — the team would need to extend him in order to keep around past the 2019 season — he’s helping to develop the players who are planned to make up the next contending group on the South Side.

No player is more under Abreu’s guiding hand than Yoan Moncada, his fellow Cuban who just a season ago was the No. 1 prospect in baseball. Moncada’s development from top prospect into star of the future is the biggest storyline of the season for the White Sox. And Abreu, the role model in this clubhouse, is in part tasked with helping Moncada do just that.

“Our friendship is special,” Moncada said through a team translator last week. “We’re always talking about everything, having fun. He gives me advice, and I always try to make fun of him. Our relationship has been for a long time. We were friends in Cuba. And now we are rejoined here. It’s just a very good relationship. I’m blessed having him here.”

“He’s a Cuban, and it’s always special to play with a fellow Cuban countryman. He’s a great kid,” Abreu said through a team translator Monday. “I think that it’s a blessing. The White Sox did all that they could do for us to play together. I’m just enjoying the moment and every day with him. It’s special. It’s definitely a very special feeling.”

Abreu is often lauded by White Sox brass as the perfect example of what they want their young players to become. His incredible production makes that an easy comparison: He put up at least 30 homers and 100 RBIs in each of his first four major league seasons. But it’s what he does outside the lines that gets the highest praise. Rick Hahn, Rick Renteria and all of Abreu’s teammates constantly talk about his work ethic, his routine, his dedication to getting better and the way he goes about his business.

Moncada’s noticed. And he sees Abreu’s latest accomplishment — getting picked as an All-Star starter — as vindication that, yes, Abreu’s methods certainly work.

“Knowing him, knowing all the effort that he puts into his preparation, his work ethic, all that work that he puts into his preparation is paying off and he’s recognized with this election,” Moncada said. “That’s something that motivates you, something that lets you know that if you do things the right way, you’re going to get rewarded. For me, it’s a motivation, and I feel really honored to share this team with him.”

Moncada’s first full season in the bigs hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s had his hot stretches — including the last couple weeks; he’s slashing .356/.453/.644 since July 2 — but he’s also had long periods of struggles. Certain aspects, such as a propensity for striking out and making errors at second base, have been constants throughout the campaign.

Renteria refers to the mistakes and the poor results as teachable moments. Does he have a proxy teacher in Abreu?

“I tell him to enjoy the game,” Abreu said. “Enjoy the game, have fun, be a little more focused on the situation of the game. But I think the key is to have fun.”

Mostly, though, Abreu is convinced that Moncada will blossom into the kind of player White Sox fans hoped he would when he brought that top-prospect track record to the organization in the Chris Sale trade. The expectations are undoubtedly high, but Abreu’s been seeing Moncada meet them for some time. The two have known each other since the younger Moncada was 17 years old.

“I think that he was born with special abilities to play this sport,” Abreu said. “Before I met him, there were a lot of people talking about him in Cuba because of his abilities, the talent that he has. And when I met him, it was a very special moment. As soon as I met him, I realized, ‘Wow, what people say about him is true.’ His body type, his ability to play the game. He’s special.”

So will the All Star of today and the All Star of tomorrow one day share the All-Star stage?

“I would like to have that opportunity. Let’s pray to God to have that opportunity,” Abreu said. “If that happens, that would be really special for us.”

'The Javy Baez Show' hits the All-Star Game, with El Mago taking his place among baseball's best

'The Javy Baez Show' hits the All-Star Game, with El Mago taking his place among baseball's best

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Asked not long ago how special Javy Baez is, Joe Maddon brought up another name: Jon Lester.

To paraphrase the Cubs’ skipper: When a player with the experience of Lester is raving about Baez, you know he’s something special.

It doesn’t take a lot to realize that Baez can do things on a baseball field that few others can. The man nicknamed “El Mago” is pulling a new rabbit out of his hat each and every game, it seems, leaving even those the closest to him consistently wowed.

And, yeah, Lester thinks pretty highly of his Cubs and National League All-Star teammate, saying Monday that Baez is the best infielder he’s played with during his big league career, now in its 13th season.

“I think he is, probably, the best infielder I’ve ever played with. That speaks pretty highly,” Lester said the day prior to the Midsummer Classic in D.C. “I’ve played with some pretty good ones: (Dustin) Pedroia, Mike Lowell, (Adrian) Beltre at third. These guys are pretty special defenders and players, and I think Javy’s athleticism makes him above and beyond those guys.

“How athletic he is, how he’s able to control his body. There’s times in the game where you feel like it’s almost going backwards for him it’s so slow. And the stuff he’s able to do at the plate, defensively, you guys all see that. He’s a special player to watch. I’m just glad he’s on our side and we get to do it every day.”

Baez’s breakout campaign has him in the MVP discussion at the season’s midway point. And he’s one of the stars of these All-Star festivities, a participant in Monday’s Home Run Derby and the NL leadoff hitter in Tuesday’s All-Star Game. While Cubs fans and observers have watched it all season long — Cubs teammate and fellow Derby participant Kyle Schwarber dubbed it “The Javy Baez Show” on Monday — these two days will put Baez on the national stage, one of the game’s biggest.

“I’ve seen him do some amazing things the past few years,” Reds second baseman and NL All Star Scooter Gennett said. “He couldn’t do anything that I’d be surprised (by). That’s just Javy doing some — what do they call him, ‘The Magician’ or whatever? — just doing some magic stuff. Nothing would surprise me. I’ve seen enough to be like, ‘Man, he’s extremely blessed and a really good baseball player.’”

“Javy is an electrifying player to say the least,” Houston Astros pitcher and American League All Star Gerrit Cole said. “Probably the most impressive thing outside of Javy’s glove work, which is just kind of magical in its own … I got to see him when he first came up and he knows how that first stint went in the major leagues and how he’s adjusted since he’s been there. And that’s probably the most important thing. He’s very flashy, he’s very flairy, which is great, is exciting, is attention grabbing. But his skill work and his talent is really what shines through, and he’s just a wonderful player and tough out.”

Though he paused, seemingly to take in the fact that Lester had such high praise for him, Baez himself said comparisons don’t mean much. It’s not a surprise from someone who has established himself as a unique talent not just in the current generation of ballplayers but perhaps throughout the game’s history.

“There’s a lot of comparisons with me. I just try to be myself, to be honest, out there, off the field, too,” Baez said. “There’s a lot of people who are scared to be them. I play the way I play because I do me. I do it the way I think. … I’m not trying to show anybody up. That’s the way I play, just me being me and trying to do the best for my teammates.”

The numbers and the highlight-reel plays have thrust Baez into the realm of baseball’s very best. His inclusion in the All-Star Game isn’t a surprise, it’s a necessity.

Baez said he’s hoping to learn a lot from this experience, and Lester, at his fifth All-Star Game, said the lesson should be a simple but important one.

“The biggest thing is — when I got my first All-Star Game, it makes you feel like you belong. It’s like, ‘I am pretty good,’” Lester said. “So I think to get rewarded for your hard work, to get to be able to do this, I think it’s kind of like the little pat on the back. Like, ‘Hey, good job.’ For me, it was like, ‘Maybe I am pretty good.’ It was like the big, eye-opening thing for me the first time I got to do this.

“Hopefully they (Baez and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras) see that, hopefully they feel like they are two of the best in the game and that just carries over to their game.”