White Sox

Adam Jones: White Sox Chris Sale is MLB's 'praying mantis'

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Adam Jones: White Sox Chris Sale is MLB's 'praying mantis'

CINCINNATI -- The Chris Sale Lovefest is in full swing this week at the All-Star Game.

For two days, anyone and everyone participating in Tuesday night’s All-Star Game at Great American Ballpark has fawned over the White Sox ace, who earned a spot on the American League roster for a fourth straight season.

The superlatives have arrived at an almost-sickening pace for Sale, who is 8-4 with a 2.72 ERA this season and leads the AL in several pitching categories, including with 157 strikeouts. Now in his fourth season as a starting pitcher, Sale has made it clear to his fellow All-Stars he’s no fluke and he’s also a constant nightmare to face.

“I call him the praying mantis,” Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said. “He’s probably the nastiest pitcher in baseball, right-handed or left-handed.”

Seeing as they’re both lefties, Cleveland’s Jason Kipnis knows he’s in for a tough game any time Sale takes the mound. The two are friends and Kipnis feels fortunate to have four hits in 17 at-bats against Sale.

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“It sucks,” Kipnis said. “It’s not fun at all.

“See if can just get one off him today. See if I can scrape. He’s lengthy, it’s funky and it’s also 98 miles an hour and a curveball that starts behind me and it ends up a ball away. You’ve got to have an approach, you’ve got to eliminate one of his pitches and even after that you can’t miss when you guess right on it. He’s a tough guy to have success against.”

The hitters aren’t the ones offering praise and some of the highest comes from the only pitcher who has more strikeouts than Sale this season, Clayton Kershaw. A three-time Cy Young winner, Kershaw, who has 160 strikeouts for the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been seriously impressed with what he’s seen from Sale.

“Strikeouts aside, he’s dominant,” Kershaw said. “It’s really unbelievable. You should really thank your lucky stars if you get a hit against him. Just watching him and the stuff he’s featuring and that arm angle, I don’t know how you get a hit, honestly. Impressive.”

Sale is well aware what has been said about him and he’s appreciative. But he has never been big on self-promotion and tries to block out the attention as much he possible.

[MORE: Yost believes the world wants to see Chris Sale pitch at ASG]

“I know where it’s coming from,” Sale said. “These guys are the best players in the world and you definitely appreciate it, but at the same time I try not to listen to or think about that kind of stuff too much. I’m a big believer in karma and the baseball gods and if you let those things take over your game, it spirals pretty quickly. When you think your horse is a little higher than the next you get knocked off. I definitely appreciate it. It’s humbling to hear, but I try not to let all those things creep in.”

As Jones sees it, Sale has only made the volume louder with his outstanding pitching and the uncomfortable at-bats hitters must endure with him on the mound.

Jones is 4-for-11 with a home run against Sale. He said the key is to not wait around against the lanky lefty -- otherwise he could devour you.

“He throws everything at you and it’s probably 95 or 96, sharp slider, good changeup,” Jones said. “Hope he misses and swing. If you see one you like, hit it. Don’t try to work an at-bat, that’s a quick out.”

Yoan Moncada is back at the top of the White Sox batting order

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Yoan Moncada is back at the top of the White Sox batting order

Yoan Moncada’s time down near the bottom of the White Sox batting order came to a quick end this weekend. After just five games, Moncada returned to the top of the lineup for Friday’s game and was there again for Game 2 of the series with the visiting Kansas City Royals on Saturday.

It ended up being the “break” that manager Rick Renteria described it as, and the skipper, for one, believes that short stretch was beneficial to Moncada, who was struggling mightily when Renteria made that move last week.

Through the first 19 games of the second half, Moncada slashed .122/.250/.216 with three extra-base hits, four RBIs and 33 strikeouts. It was as noticeable a period of struggles at the plate as he’s had in his first full season in the majors, a campaign that has to this point failed to meet the big expectations the former No. 1 prospect in baseball carried with him into this season.

Renteria said that bumping Moncada down in the lineup would allow him to watch opposing pitchers face several other batters and remove the need to do certain things that come with batting leadoff.

For what it’s worth, Moncada got four hits — two of them for extra bases and one a home run — and walked twice in 18 plate appearances over the five games against the Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers. He struck out nine times. Friday, he returned to the leadoff spot and went 1-for-4 with a walk and a run scored (and no strikeouts).

“When we put him down in the bottom of the lineup, it’s because I wanted to have him see other players have multiple at-bats over the course of a couple of games,” Renteria said Saturday. “When you’re leading off, you have a chance of either working very well, working on base, getting your hits, whatever the case might be. But if it’s not working out, you start to get a little frustrated. You’re still grinding through it.

“The perspective that I’m giving him is, ‘Hey, listen, no matter who I put in there, they also make outs. Sometimes they don’t get on. Understand it’s just not you. It’s a difficult position in which you lead off the ballgame.’ I just wanted him to take a breath, take a step back, look at it, and then make an adjustment, allow him to get back into that situation.”

While the numbers from that five-game stretch aren’t enough to determine whether this is the start of a second-half turnaround for Moncada, Renteria said he did believe the experience to be a beneficial one for his second baseman.

“I thought it was beneficial,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily have this conversation to say, ‘Hey, did it work out for you for the last few days?’ Nothing like that. But as you’re talking to him, just in passing, as you go through conversations and you see where they’re at, hopefully we’re making the right decision and the right adjustments for them.”

Moncada still owns a .149 batting average in the second half. He’s on pace to strike out 235 times this season, which would be a new single-season major league record.

But this rebuilding season was always going to be about developmental growing pains. And the idea is that the experiences he’s going through now will pay dividends down the road, when the White Sox shift from rebuilding to contending and Moncada, the hope is, shifts from the developmental stage to the superstar stage.

As White Sox continue to pile up the strikeouts, Rick Renteria is taking the broad view

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As White Sox continue to pile up the strikeouts, Rick Renteria is taking the broad view

White Sox third baseman Matt Davidson has in his mind an ideal number of times he’d strike out in a season.

“If I had it my way I’d probably strike out 20 times a year but I don’t know how you do that, really,” Davidson said before the Sox defeated the Royals 9-3 on Friday night at Guaranteed Rate Field.

It’s not realistic for an everyday player to go through the season with that few strikeouts, especially on a Sox team that entered Friday’s game with 1,163 of them, the second-highest total in the major-leagues behind the Rangers’ 1,168. The Sox were on pace to strike out 1,570 times, which would break the franchise record of 1,397 set last season.

Against the Royals, the Sox struck out seven times, but made more than enough contact—including three-run home runs from Jose Abreu and Nicky Delmonico—to win for the eighth time in their last 14 games.

With the Sox going through the trials and tribulations that come along with a radical rebuild, perhaps it’s not a surprise the team strikes out as much as it has the past two seasons. They are young, aggressive at the plate and still learning at the major-league level.

“It’s just some of the experience and learning your swing and trying to improve on it every single year,” said Davidson, who went 1-for-5 with three strikeouts Friday night. “I don’t think coming up (in the minors) everybody was striking out as much as we do here so that just shows that the competition is better and we’re just also trying to learn.

“The MLB (web site) has a section just showing how nasty pitches are,” Davidson added. “Guys are really good here. It’s just a part of learning. It’s about seeing the ball, learning the zone, learning counts and understanding when they’re going to throw stirkes and when they’re going to throw balls and also just putting the bat on the ball.”

The Sox were particularly susceptible to the strikeout when they fanned 10-plus times during an eight-game stretch from Aug. 5-13, a franchise record. They fell one game short of matching the dubious major-league record of nine consecutive games with 10-plus Ks set by the Brewers in 2017.

Sox manager Rick Renteria said the cause of all the strikeouts “depends on who you want to look at. You could look at it collectively (or) you can look at it individually. We have one of the young men (Yoan Moncada) who has quite a few under his belt, both looking and swinging (for a major-league leading 172 this season). Two-strike approach obviously is something we talk about a lot and still has to be implemented in practical terms so that it's useful. We don't want our guys swinging out of the zone. We do want them to be able to defend themselves and keep a ball in play possibly when need be.

“But I'm not thinking in regards of how (strikeouts) continue to mount and what that indicates or doesn't indicate,” Renteria added. “We look at all of our guys individually and figure out what it is we can help them with in terms of attacking that strike zone and being ready to hit.”