White Sox

Ballantini: Baseball love is in the air at Sox camp

Ballantini: Baseball love is in the air at Sox camp

Friday, February 25, 2011
11:57 a.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. When youre able to play baseball in February, hope cant help but spill out of clubhouses and into the streets of this pop-up town.

Its springtime in Arizona, and theres no better place to be than All-In.

This is the time of year thats so easy to fall under the spell of, and I say that not only as snow is still dusting everybody back home. Down here, all of us here are united by the love of this silly game, baseballand if youre not falling in love in February in Arizona, maybe its time to look for another line of work.

But dont take my word for it; walk around this Chicago clubhouse with me, and see just how dear the game is to these White Sox.

Theres Juan Pierre, in-season or out, driven by his passion for the game. Famous for his beastly drive to become better, I have a soft spot in my heart for him. At a time when fewer and fewer players might suit up and play the game for free, Pierrethe first to arrive and last to leavewould, undoubtedly.

Sitting next to Pierre is Lastings Milledge, who at just 25 can spin a weary tale of elusive potential and escaped stardom. Rather than drop out of the game bitterly and allowing himself to register simply as another Where Are They Now tale of woe, Milledge is fighting for a fourth outfielder spot on the White Sox without yet having the benefit of a spot on the 40-man roster. He readily admits his immaturity, and realizes hes tried to claw his way to major league stardom without a single mentor to help guide him. Perhaps Pierre has arrived in his life just in time.

Omar Vizquel will be 44 as the dew burns off of the 2011 season, and he bites his thumb at anyone chiding his senior status by continuing to worm his way into the lineup. At a time when this all-time fielding great could be jogging into a role as coach-player, he remains a player-coach, taking on Arizona Fall League phenom Eduardo Escobaralmost 22 years his junioras his latest pet project. And Vizquel still finds time not just to mentor the likes of Escobar or Jordan Danks, but get his work in for the season. Yeah, it wasnt just the indefatigable Pierre wearing down grass bunting on side fields on ThursdayOmar the Ageless was there, too.

Jake Peavy has been feeling the pressures of a curious injury streak of late, one thats scarred his time so far with the Chisox. But its not justification of a weighty salary that has pushed him miraculously through his rehabilitation. He continued last springworking himself back to ace-level by going 3-2 with a 1.75 ERA and .917 WHIP in five June starts, mind youknowing something wasnt right with his body. The only thing that could stop this former Cy Young winner from pitching was having his lat rip off the bone. Peavy wants back in the White Soxs vaunted rotationnot recklessly, but out of his love of the game. And no surprise, hes ahead of schedule on the comeback trail.

The team rapscallionoutside of manager Ozzie Guillen, of courseis A.J. Pierzynski. Guillens scouting report on A.J. has been oft-repeatedif you have to play against him, you hate his guts, but if youre his teammate, you hate his guts a little less. It would be easy to dismiss Pierzynski as a scallywag trading his fortunate baseball genes in for an easy paycheck, but that would fly in the face of the fact that the White Sox are going to have to rip the catchers mask from A.J.s cold, dead hands. Whether mentally struggling, physically ailing, or merely slumping, Pierzynski insists on playing. Missing a game? A personal affront.

Sitting together as locker mates are Mark Teahen and Brent Morel. With every reason to treat one another with dispassion, these two teammates root for one another, figuring the best man will win the third base job, and that there will be space for both on the roster and in games.

Oh, and there are more tales of baseball passion in the White Sox clubhouse. Look at Jesse Crain, the newest power arm in the pen, whose velocity is actually increasing as he approaches 30 years old. Sergio Santos, last seasons feel-good fireballer, has replaced the unease of knowing whether hell be on the big league roster with the challenge of working a new pitch into his repertoire, or at least mastering his off-speed ones. Chris Sale could ascend from college boy to Chisox closer in less than half a season, all while yet to turn to his best pitch of all, his changeup.

And dont stop at just the players, every one of whom can spin his own personal love story for baseball. Look at the team jefe, Guillen, who wants us all to believe that pulling on his stirrups is more tedious than tweeting. But dont believe the cagey skipperhe loves the stage afforded by managing the team he dreamed one day he would. Theres not a person in camp Guillen wont give some hell toand he loves every last one of them.

His boss, Ken Williams, was pulled by his love for baseball away from a sport he might perhaps have better excelled at, football (convinced by the passion of owner Jerry Reinsdorf, who flew to the Bay Area to make sure Williams signed with the White Sox). As an African-American GMand yes, that list is still woefully shortWilliams has suffered more than his share of lumps and not-so-veiled insults. And yet the game addicts himhe cannot walk away, even with 10 years under fire as the man in charge of the White Sox.

Ozzie and Ken spent a half-hour together on Thursday, sidling up together in opposing golf carts, and while there surely was talk of personnel and plans, what you heard most from the longtime friends was laughterloud, what-the-hell-are-they-cackling-about laughter. No kid aching for an autograph or rookie struggling to find his place in the organization could burst with such love for this game.

And that brings it all back to me, charged with observing this game and covering this team. I offer no apology for being a lifelong White Sox fan, elating in the good times and aching through the bad. And while that might cloud my press box judgment for a snap, as I jump and yell at Delmon Young when he tries to displace A.J.s jaw at home plate, it doesnt make me any better or worse a beat writer. My fellow White Sox fans know all too well that rooting like hell for your team doesnt make you a homerit merely means youre all the more likely to question why no ones aiming for Joe Mauers jaw than apologizing away another loss to the Twinks.

My connection to the team is a personal one thats pushing back dangerously close to four decades now, one that many of my peers and the players who wear the uniform do not share. But my love of the game? That makes me no different than those players on the field, or the coaches maneuvering them. Im not a millionaire, and my ability on the field stopped me well short of ever getting a chance to play for anything substantial between the lines. But the one thing I do share with the White Sox I speak to every day is my love of the game, and of the team.

Write me off as gung-ho, if you wish, and have a laugh at my expense. Thats just fine, I dont mind. If youre following me On the Road, well, you probably are right there with me.

We are all driven by one thing: baseball. Really, is there anything better than that?
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

White Sox say Carlos Rodon is a long-term starter, but his 2020 role is far less certain

0502_carlos_rodon.jpg
USA TODAY

White Sox say Carlos Rodon is a long-term starter, but his 2020 role is far less certain

Carlos Rodon does not want to move to the bullpen.

“In my heart, I think I’m a starter,” Rodon told MLB.com’s Scott Merkin earlier this month. “I’m not a bullpen arm.”

In the long term, his team very much agrees with him. The White Sox view Rodon as a member of their rotation in 2021, the next season in which he’s scheduled to pitch a full complement of games, after his recovery from Tommy John surgery is complete sometime in the middle of this season.

“We view Carlos, long term, as a starter,” Rick Hahn said last week. “Certainly a year from right now, I expect to be talking about him as one of the five guys in the rotation.”

But what does that mean for Rodon in 2020?

“Over the course of this season, let him finish up his rehab, let us see where we’re at as a starting rotation, let us see where he is from a stamina and endurance standpoint and how we project him the rest of the year, and then we’ll figure out how to best bring him back to the big leagues,” Hahn said. “Long term, Carlos Rodon’s a starter. Let’s get him through his rehab, and then we’ll talk about his role for the balance of the 2020 season.

“I also know Carlos has said repeatedly, whatever we want him to do to help the team win, he’s there for. So long term, starter. Short term, we’ll figure out once he’s healthy where he’s at.”

Rodon won’t be back from his recovery until summer, so don’t worry about trying to wedge him into the rotation for the first few months of the campaign. The Opening Day starting five seems well set, even while Lucas Giolito and Gio Gonzalez work their way back from nagging springtime issues: Giolito, Dallas Keuchel, Reynaldo Lopez, Dylan Cease and Gonzalez.

Michael Kopech will be waiting in the wings, the White Sox opting to slow-play his return to a big league mound after his own Tommy John recovery. He hasn’t pitched in any game above instructional league since September 2018, and logic points to him starting this season at Triple-A Charlotte until he’s ready to return to the bigs in a way that allows him to pitch meaningful games in September.

That’s when the White Sox hope to be in the middle — or, in a perfect situation, far out in front of — a playoff race. And Rodon could certainly factor into the chase for the first bout of October baseball on the South Side in more than a decade.

“I don’t know what’s in store,” Rodon told Our Chuck Garfien on the White Sox Talk Podcast. “I’m just trying to be ready by whenever they need me ready. There’s a lot of things that go into making a move. Make a move for me, you’ve still got to take somebody off the 40-man, send someone down. There’s a whole lot of correlating moves to that. What the timing is for that, I don’t know. Maybe the guys are doing well and I’m not needed yet.

“Whatever it may be. I don’t know what it is. But when it’s my time, I’ll be ready to go, I know that.”

Rodon can throw pretty darn hard, something that intrigues those wanting to stick him in the ‘pen and call on him to get a few batters out rather than soldier through six or seven innings. But White Sox fans are plenty familiar with what he can be when he’s healthy and at his best, the kind of starter who can mow down opposing lineups.

Either role would be a valuable midseason addition for a team in the playoff hunt. You’d have to figure that this is a bridge the White Sox will cross when they come to it, meaning that Rodon will likely be deployed in whatever area he’s needed.

A wrinkle in all this is that Rodon is not under the same kind of long-term team control as many of his teammates. He’s slated to hit free agency after the 2021 season, giving him a shorter amount of time to show he deserves to be part of the White Sox long-term planning.

Though with the team that drafted him on the verge of making the transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode, Rodon said he wants to be a part of the glory days after living through the darkest days of the rebuild.

“I definitely don’t want to go anywhere,” he said. “I’ve gone through the losses. It’d be so rewarding to chip away slowly, maybe make a playoff game, make a wild card game, who knows. I don’t know what’s in store for our future. But start there. It would be super rewarding for me.”

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Zack Burdi feeling positive after making second return from a major injury

Zack Burdi feeling positive after making second return from a major injury

When Zack Burdi was drafted, he was expected to be a fast riser in the White Sox system, but injuries have derailed that.

Burdi made it to Triple-A in 2016, just a couple months after he was drafted, and held his own in nine appearances for the Charlotte Knights. He returned to Charlotte in 2017, but Tommy John surgery ended his season and cost him almost all of 2018.

Last year, he returned, this time reaching Double-A Birmingham before a knee injury ended his season in June. Burdi last pitched in a competitive game on June 20.

On Tuesday, he pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning against the San Francisco Giants in a spring training game. Burdi’s return to the mound included a first-pitch flyout and two groundouts to second. He talked to reporters on Wednesday about his outing.

“To go out there and have a good Day 1 was huge,” Burdi said. “The last thing you want is to go out there after eight months and not do well and kind of double check yourself and all the work you’ve been putting in. To go out there and to have success and to see all that work come to light was truly good.”


Reports from Arizona had Burdi in the mid 90s, which is a bit off his previous consistent fastball velocity in the high 90s and reaching 100 mph. His velocity was down last year when he returned, but seeing it in the mid 90s in his first outing back this time around is reasonable.


Burdi also showed off his wicker slider, getting a couple swinging strikes on Kean Wong.

The White Sox will likely stay conservative with the 24-year-old right-handed reliever to start the year. If he is healthy and ready to go, he could be a midseason addition to the bullpen.

“My first outing in eight months there was a lot of nerves coming back for sure and I was anxious in the bullpen,” Burdi told reporters in Arizona. “I was walking around a lot, but I was excited. I’ve been working really hard the last couple months on mechanics and trying to get that right for the season so to go out there and see that be put to work was really nice for sure.”


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