White Sox

Alex Avila: Leadership role is 'something that's earned'

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Alex Avila: Leadership role is 'something that's earned'

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Alex Avila is a firm believer that leadership has more to do with how a player conducts himself off the field than how he performs on it.  

On the second official day with his new club, Avila was asked Saturday if he can provide the White Sox with much-needed leadership this season. The catcher — who signed a one-year deal worth $2.5 million in November — didn’t rule out the possibility. But were he to step into that role, Avila expects he would so with a more low-key approach.

“I think there’s a misconception when it comes to respect and leadership,” Avila said. “People think that you’re kind of like born like that. It’s something that’s earned. …

“People over the years have seen me, the way I carry myself.

“It’s not so much something you should earn by how you play. There’s a lot of d---heads that play really well that you wouldn’t consider leaders.”

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Robin Ventura agrees with Avila’s stance. Though they’ve only begun to work with each other this week, Ventura knows the type of leadership Avila provided to the Detroit Tigers for seven seasons. The White Sox manager thinks Avila can offer the same to his club and suggested the catcher sticks to his approach and eventually it would work.

“Those things evolve,” Ventura said. “(In) talking to Alex, it’s like, don’t go in there and try to hang a sign out on your locker that says I’m the leader because it will come to him.

“That stuff is earned. You can’t come in and pound your chest and say ‘I’m the guy that’s going to lead’ because the things that make you not a leader are going to come out.”

Good health is likely to be a huge factor in Avila becoming a leader and he expects it to be there. He thinks the knee problems that dogged him for several seasons, including a trip to the disabled list in 2015, are in the past.

Avila was on the DL from May 8 to June 2, after which he required time to get back into baseball shape. But once healthy, Avila said he felt much better and it carried over to this offseason.

[MORE: Mat Latos: White Sox 'good fit' to get back on track]

“It felt as good as it had felt in probably quite a few years,” Avila said. “I was really encouraged by it. I haven't had any issues with it over the offseason through all my workouts. It was the first offseason I was able to have that I didn't have to go through any type of rehab or anything like that.”

Avila played with closer David Robertson at Alabama and knows several White Sox players. But most of the team’s pitching staff is brand new, which means he has just begun the get-to-know-you phase with many pitchers. Avila said the only spring training goal he has set for himself is to catch each pitcher on the staff. Through two days, Avila has caught Chris Sale, Erik Johnson, Carson Fulmer, Zach Putnam and Zach Duke.

Sale likes the additions of Avila and Dioner Navarro. He said their experience speaks for itself.

“I think it’s going to be a smooth transition,” Sale said.

[RELATED: Rick Hahn confident offense has improved, but won't rule out additions]

Avila thinks so, too, even if he’s experiencing an entirely new world this spring. He arrived in Phoenix a week early to familiarize himself with the new complex and city, having spent every other spring in his career in Florida.

“It's different,” Avila said. “It's a little strange. I was joking with some of the clubhouse guys that when they send me catcher's gear it's still going to be navy and white rather than black and white. It's a little different, but after a few days you get over that and really the only thing you focus on is getting ready for games and playing.”

As for the leadership, that will come on its own and should have very little to do with what takes place on the field. If and when it does arrive, Avila also expects it will happen with little fanfare.

“If I’m doing my job right as far as being a leader, you won’t hear about it,” Avila said.

Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

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USA TODAY

Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

Tim Anderson turned 24 on Saturday and celebrated the occasion with a bang.

Anderson smashed a three-run home run in the first inning against the A's. It was actually his first swing on his birthday. Anderson took the first two pitches before launching the 1-1 pitch over the right field fence.

That home run, Anderson's 13th of the year, gave the White Sox a 5-0 lead. Things took an ugly turn later in the game with Oakland winning 7-6. Dylan Covey left in the fifth with a hip injury, which manager Rick Renteria said will be evaluated tomorrow to determine the severity of the injury.

Anderson finished 2-for-4 on his birthday. He later added a single, a stolen base and a run in the sixth inning.

Anderon's power surge this year has him on pace to blow past his 17 homers from a year ago. He is four shy of last year's total and has done so in just under half as many plate appearances.

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.