White Sox

35th and Shields: Aaron Rowand, James Shields keeping it all in the family with White Sox

35th and Shields: Aaron Rowand, James Shields keeping it all in the family with White Sox

Saturday morning, former White Sox outfielder Aaron Rowand got a phone call from his younger cousin in San Diego. Aaron calls him Jamie. The rest of the world knows him as James, a major league pitcher whose last name is Shields.

“It’s done,” said the excited voice on the other end of the line.

The two had been talking about the trade rumors for days, but now it was official: James Shields was headed to the White Sox, the team Rowand won a World Series with in 2005 and has long been Rowand’s second family.

Now with Shields headed to the South Side, the White Sox have become all in the family.

35th and Shields.

“I told him, you’re going to enjoy your time there,” Rowand recalled in a phone interview from his home in Las Vegas. “I said, 'I’m happy for you. I’m proud of you and I’m excited to watch you put on a White Sox uniform.'"

Rowand and Shields have similar DNA — their mothers are sisters — but growing up, James wasn’t in the same league with his older cousin.

“As a kid, he has two older brothers. His oldest brother Jason is my age. His other brother Jeremy is a year younger,” Rowand said about James. “He was always the little guy who wanted to come play with us whenever we had holidays. We’d tell him, ‘Get out of here! You’re too small.’ Now he’s taller than all of us.”

Shields grew to be 6-foot-3 and became one of the best high school pitchers in Southern California. He was drafted by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the 16th round of the 2000 MLB draft. But after one season in the minor leagues, Shields underwent serious shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2002 season.

His once flourishing baseball career was in jeopardy. He needed a lifeline.

One day in 2003, it came from his older cousin who was close to becoming a star with the White Sox.

“He was going through some issues,” Rowand said.  “He was having some arm problems and during the offseason he wasn’t doing a whole lot with his workouts. He had a kid so he was busy with that. Baseball just wasn’t his priority during the offseason.”

Shields and his fiancé were living with his mom and dad in California. Rowand called from his home in Las Vegas and delivered a friendly, family ultimatum.

“I just called his mom and said, ‘Tell Jamie he’s coming up here. He’s going to move up here. Tell him he’s going to come up here to workout with me and we’re going to try to make sure he gets the best chance possible and make a push in his career and not let it spiral out of control with injuries.'"

Shields got the message. Actually, he got much more than that.

“My trainer got him on a program, and over the course of a few years he went from not having much of a work ethic to probably having the best work ethic of anybody I have ever seen and he has continued that on throughout his career,” Rowand said. “But it wasn’t me who did it. He was the one who put the work in. He’s the one who dedicated himself to being who he was going to become and eventually did become.”

What Shields has become is one of the most durable pitchers in baseball. He has started 33 or 34 games in eight consecutive seasons. The only other active pitcher who comes close to that is Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey — who’s done it for four.

With the back end of the White Sox rotation often going less than six innings, Shields seems to be the perfect remedy — not just for the starting staff, but to the bullpen whose weakened arms have begun to turn to jelly.

“He’s a guy who can eat up innings, he’s going to give you quality starts, he’s going to save your bullpen and give them extra days rest,” Rowand explained. “You don’t have to go quite often to the bullpen as early in the game and I think as far as what they already have in that clubhouse, I think he’s going to fit right in and they’re not going to skip a beat. And I think that winning attitude and what he brings with his experiences, I think it will do nothing but help what they already have going on.”

Wednesday night in Vegas, Rowand will have the television on, watching his cousin take the mound at U.S. Cellular Field, wearing a White Sox uniform for the very first time.

“I love him to death. I’m proud of him. I look at him more like a little brother than a cousin.”

At the end of the night, the White Sox are hoping to call Shields something else.

A winner.

They haven’t seen too many of them lately. Maybe Shields can be the start of it.

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

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USA TODAY

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.