White Sox

Backup role a tough shift for Flowers

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Backup role a tough shift for Flowers

Tyler Flowers has never played fewer than 100 games in a full season in his professional career. Barring something unexpected, that'll change in 2012.

Flowers has gone from a highly-touted catching prospect -- the centerpiece of 2008's Javier Vazquez trade -- to a 26-year-old backup on this year's White Sox, which should be his first full year in the majors if everything goes right. But this isn't the role Flowers envisioned, even if he's okay with it.

"Right now, this is the best situation for the team. I'm perfectly happy with my position right now," Flowers said. "A couple years from now, I don't know if I'll be happy, but it's good to be here and be part of this team."

Flowers has no intention of being a career backup, like Ramon Castro. Flowers said he spoke to the former Sox catcher last year about handling the role, and that Castro's advice has been a big help. And while the adjustment to a backup role hasn't been easy on Flowers, he certainly understands his responsibilities.

"There's probably nothing I do or don't do today that's going to make or break me next week," Flowers explained. "I think that's how you have to approach it. Priority one being a backup at any position is defense, and my defense is getting that pitcher to have a good start, keep us in the game. If I do that, opportunities will present themselves down the road. Getting hits is just a bonus."

But Flowers' bat is more than just a bonus. The righty has loads of power and frequently peppers the center field ivy at U.S. Cellular Field with gargantuan blasts in batting practice. He hit five home runs in 38 major-league games last year, and while strikeouts are an issue, he still has good offensive potential for a catcher.

Reaching that potential would be easier if Flowers was playing every day, but he and his coaches are working to combat that problem.

"It's a challenge," Flowers said of continuing to develop offensively. "I'm just trying to simulate as much as I can, whether that be one of our coaches throwing to me, doing at-bats, seeing breaking balls, seeing something different than batting practice every day. That'll help a fair bit as far as recognizing pitches and such."

Those 38 games Flowers played last year -- which came when Pierzynski made a rare trip to the disabled list -- certainly helped Flowers' confidence. His play proved to him he belonged in the majors, and given his current spot on the 25-man roster, perhaps it proved to the White Sox he belongs, too.

"Being in the minor leagues for a long time, it kinda makes you start to wonder a little bit, maybe I'm not, maybe I am," Flowers said. "I think I took advantage of what I had last year and showed I'm capable of, for now, being a backup and hopefully one day starting."

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

The learning process continues for Dylan Cease, who just had 'my best start of the year'

Dylan Cease's ERA is still north of 5.75.

He's not a finished product, no matter how much anyone wants him to be one.

"It would be ideal for me — and my ability to sleep — and everyone’s mood if these guys came up and dominated immediately," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Thursday. "In reality there is a little bit of a learning process that goes on."

All these results, the ones that have contributed to that ugly ERA and some generally ugly outings over Cease's first couple months in the major leagues, are learning moments. Not convinced on the effectiveness of those learning moments? Just look to Lucas Giolito, who took all the struggles he had in 2018 and turned them into an All-Star 2019 season in which he's blossomed into the ace of the staff.

But, despite the hype, these guys aren't coming up finished products.

Cease, though, has flashed the potential that has earned him all that hype, and in no outing did he flash more of it than he did in Friday night's start against the visiting Texas Rangers.

Following the theme that seems to be developing in Cease starts, he had a pretty lousy inning early in the game, in this case the very first inning, in which he served up a three-run homer. The theme continues, though, that Cease usually uses all that composure and maturity everyone's always raving about to settle down and pitch a decent game. Friday night, he was more than decent. After the first inning, Cease retired the next 11 batters he faced and allowed just two hits (both singles) over five scoreless innings.

Cease, following in the tradition of perfectionist pitchers everywhere, hasn't been happy with previous outings that followed a similar script. This time, he was pleased. Maybe something to do with the career-best nine strikeouts.

"To me, that was just a huge confidence boost right there. Now I just need to not let those big innings happen," Cease said. "That's definitely my best start of the year today, besides that first inning."

"You had a couple of things going on," manager Rick Renteria said. "He had a rough first, we scored some runs, he holds them. We scored some more runs, he holds them. He kept doing that throughout. It's a big push. You see, there's a confidence-builder in that particular outing today. He should be happy how he ended up redirecting himself and righting the ship."

Cease's ability to do just that, right the ship, might give him a bit of a head start on his developmental process at the major league level. After all, Giolito and James McCann talk frequently about that issue plaguing Giolito in 2018. When things went wrong early, Giolito couldn't get back on track. He's been able to this year, contributing to his success. If Cease can do that from the day he hits the majors, that's a plus.

And if that's a tool Cease already has in his tool box, then the next step would be eliminating those early troubles. As good as Cease has looked at times, those numbers aren't lying. He's given up 32 earned runs in his 50 big league innings. He's given up 11 home runs in nine starts and has yet to have an outing without allowing a homer. Walks have been a sporadic issue: He walked just one batter in each of his last two starts but walked five in the outing prior and has three starts this year with at least four walks.

Again, learning process.

"His stuff is — it's electric stuff," Renteria said. "Sometimes you wonder, 'How can they hit him?' or 'How can they do this?' It's just (that they are) big league hitters. You leave something out over the plate or something they can manage, and they're going to do what they can do with it.

"As long as he continues to execute and use that stuff that he has, he's going to be OK."

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Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: It's Elvis night on the South Side

Scott Podsednik and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Baseball Night in Chicago to discuss all things baseball.

They talk Yoan Moncada's comeback, Eloy Jiménez's injury, the Cubs' continuing bullpen struggles and more.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: