White Sox

Ballantini: Dunn worrying? Good chance hes not

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Ballantini: Dunn worrying? Good chance hes not

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted: 1:20 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com
The Chicago White Sox, All-In yet wheezing toward another pallid month of training wheels baseball, have just a week to turn cans into can-do.

Over the course of this prickly Cactus League season, in which the White Sox have clinched the distinction of being the final spring training team to reach double-digit wins, several worries have come and gone.

Mark Buehrles batting-practice fastballs melded with awful location to find the crafty lefty bruised and battered midway through spring, yet hes bounced back from four figures to hold a not-unbearable ERA of 5.54 heading into his final spring start.

Carlos Quentin was looking as lost in the batters box as he did in right field, taking enough sideline BP to slowly corkscrew himself into Glendales crusty earth, when hellfire met hulk-mania and he embarked on a 12-17 tear that included four doubles, three homers, and seven RBI.

Paul Konerko took an extra warm-up lap out of spring training, shooting for team honors in strikeouts, Mendoza Line tripping, and accidental standup triples, before regaining his stroke last week and easing his OPS to a more plausible .823.

Even young gun Chris Sale, sporting an ERA this spring (5.23) that would find him falling freely out of Rookie of the Year contention, nonetheless has maintained a future closerace rate of 6.5 strikeouts per walk.

But Adam Dunn, the Big Donkey turned Brawny lumberjack courtesy of a beard borne of boredom, has yet to give a slip to his spring training yips, slogging through a .616 OPS spring and a batting average still short of spitting distance of Mendoza (.190). While hes pocketed eight walks, hes whiffed an astounding 25 times in 18 games, with very modest run production numbers (one jack, three RBI).

Worry about Dunn is twofold. First, its that K-.431 this spring compared with an already-healthy .328 in his career. Second, its come with a power outage; in Dunns career, hes tapped out a round-tripper once every 14.1 at-bats, while this spring hes stuck at one per 58, and counting.

And yet, is anyone on the White Sox worried? Not really.

The great thing about Dunn is that, unlike Sale or even Quentin, hes a veteran whos been through countless slow starts in his career, so hes well inoculated against over thinking the process.

If I stressed out about it, Id have been out of this game years ago, Dunn said. The beginning of the season is always toughwell, I say always, Im going to try this year to change that, gol-lyIm not going to set myself up and say Im going to start slow, but whispers good chance.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen is a bit jumpier in nature than Dunn, but is likewise unworried.

He reminds me a little bit of Jim Thome, Guillen said. This guy strikes out 100-plus, walks 100-plus, thats 250 times up without putting the ball in play, and still puts up a lot
of numbers. How they do it, I dont know.

Fans eyes pop out over home runs, but ask Dunn, and he could care less about the long ball.

Its not so much the homers; getting on base is No. 1 with me, Dunn says. If I can keep my on-base average .380-plus, thats my No. 1 goal of the year. Getting on base is going to equal runs. If I get on 40 of the time, were going to score some runs.

Thats exactly the way Guillen says it, although the manager has penned a quiet wish for 50 homers from Dunn this season.

I dont expect anything different from Adam, Guillen said. You get on base, youre going to give the team a chance to win. Thats why Im putting him at the top of the order, to give him more at bats and get him on base.

Dunn admits that last year, the Washington Nationals anemic offense forced him to change up his strategy. Tired of being stranded at second base, the slugger turned on his aggressivenessand wasnt much pleased with the results.

Last year was the first year I tried to swing a lot, and everything was about the same except my on-base, Dunn said. I feel like I wasnt on base last year. We needed to score runs in Washington. I dont know whats going to happen this year, but Im just going to let it freaking rip.

The numbers bear that out. Dunn isnt a slow starter, historically (his .982 OPS in 214 career MarchApril games is his highest of any month), but last year, the bookends of his season were miserable. In MarchApril he put up an .823 OPS, and wheezed to a .765 in SeptemberOctober. In 49 games over those two month, the Nats masher pushed across just 24 RBI.

It was locker mate Matt Thornton who offered an explanation for Dunns poor finish.

Its called being 25 games out in July, Thornton said. I went through it in 2007. Youre that far out that early, and its hard to keep your mind from drifting to the offseason. Theres nothing worse than struggling to find something to play for.

Clearly, Dunn wants results, and his inability to get untracked this March indicates some similar pressing. A cool customer who was granted automatic respect from teammates the minute he walked through the clubhouse door, the slugger is no different from any player on the fieldhe wants to fit in and not disappoint.

I put a lot of pressure on myself, but I know I have struggled early in the past, so I dont panic and say holy expletive, Im hitting .150 in April. It sucks, but that only means theres some damage coming in May, June, July, and August. Its hard to be patient when everybodys panicking, but it just takes five good months, so you can have a bad one.

Dunns forgetfulness about his past prowess out of the gate could just be a smart strategy against overreacting to the deep freeze slump that seems to plague every one of the Chicago 9 on a yearly basis. Theres a fair chance that in spite of some insipid spring numbers, Dunn will pile some of the smaller Hose on his shoulders early and slug the Chisox to some wins all on his own. Not that the Big Donkey is braying on it.

If I start out on fire, Ill freak, said the genial slugger. I dont know whatll happen--.400, here I come.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.

Struggles continue for White Sox starters, but there's not much in the way of alternatives

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USA TODAY

Struggles continue for White Sox starters, but there's not much in the way of alternatives

The White Sox will give Carlos Rodon, Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito every opportunity to iron out their inconsistencies this season. But the numbers have not been good for the two veteran members of the starting rotation, and considering Ivan Nova and Ervin Santana aren't part of the team's long-term plans, how long a leash the newest additions to the starting staff will have remains to be seen.

The sample sizes are small, and questioning how long these two remain members of the rotation does not come without acknowledging that neither seems to be in danger of getting cast out anytime soon. But the numbers have been downright ugly. Nova was lit up by the Baltimore Orioles in Tuesday night's 9-1 loss, inverting the damage the White Sox did against baseball's worst pitching staff a night earlier by allowing nine runs and four homers against a team that's terrorized him throughout his career. He was yanked after four incredibly ineffective innings, the third outing of his five-start season in which he's allowed six or more runs. Santana has made only two starts to this point, and one of them was fine. But his ERA is still an unpleasant 10.38, and he's given up five home runs in his 8.2 innings of work.

All told, the youngsters included with the veterans, White Sox starters own a 6.12 ERA after Tuesday night, one of the highest marks in the game.

Those numbers are not acceptable, no matter how in the thick of rebuilding the White Sox remain. Sure, the win-loss record might not be the most important thing in 2019, and Nova and Santana were not the kinds of upgrades to the starting rotation that were set to fuel a dominant staff. But they were brought in, in part, to be innings-eaters that could save a developing bullpen. Regardless of what you, the White Sox fan, thought about James Shields last season, he did eat innings, ending up as one of a baker's dozen major league pitchers to hit the 200-inning mark. If Nova and Santana aren't going to pitch deep into games — Nova's averaging only a little more than five innings per start, and Santana's averaged fewer than five innings in his two outings — their value on this roster comes into question.

Fans would surely be quick to push the button that jettisons Nova and Santana from this rotation, certainly, given the results to this point, but if the front office decides now or months from now to go down such a path, the question becomes: Who is there to fill that spot on the starting staff?

The in-organization depth is not ideal, even if Dylan Cease is one of the highest-rated pitching prospects in baseball. As well as he's started his season at Triple-A Charlotte — a 1.84 ERA and 14 strikeouts in his first 14.2 innings of the 2019 campaign — the White Sox insist that he needs to build up a significant amount of innings there before he makes what is sure to be an excitement-generating major league debut. If Nova and Santana can linger until July or August, then maybe by then Cease will be the no-brainer option as a replacement. Though if they're still taking their every-fifth-day turns at that point, then perhaps they're no longer a problem significant enough to require a replacement. Quite the Catch 22, you see.

Rick Hahn said multiple times during the offseason that Cease is on a similar track to the one Michael Kopech was on last year. Kopech debuted in late August of 2018, so the expectation could be a similar debut date for Cease. Could Cease be up quicker? It's unlikely in the event that the most compelling reason is that the big league rotation needs a boost. Hahn said throughout last season that what's going on at the big league level will have nothing to do with when the organization's top prospects make their jump to the majors. It would figure that Cease is no exception to that rule. Maybe he could beat Kopech's timeline a bit, should he continue to dominate and not go through the midseason struggles Kopech did at Charlotte last season. But it might not be so significant that it could qualify as "soon."

And so the eye turns to the rest of the Charlotte rotation, which is not well stocked with names that anyone would prefer to the veteran track records of Nova and Santana. There are some big numbers down there, too: Jordan Guerrero has a 6.87 ERA, Spencer Adams has a 8.31 ERA, Jordan Stephens has an 8.80 ERA, Donn Roach has a 9.50 ERA.

Of the non-Cease names starting at Charlotte, Dylan Covey would probably be the most logical choice to fill a vacated rotation spot at the big league level. He made the team's Opening Day roster as a bullpen arm before quickly being dispatched back to Charlotte to work on being a starter. White Sox fans have seen the Dylan Covey Show before, of course, and the reviews weren't great. As a major league starter, he has a career 6.26 ERA. He didn't last five innings in a Tuesday-night start in Charlotte but owns a 2.19 ERA after giving up a couple runs in that game.

There's Manny Banuelos, who has been pretty good for the White Sox out of the bullpen this season. He made a spot start in place of the injured Lucas Giolito in Monday night's drubbing of the Orioles, throwing four scoreless innings. He's got a 2.51 ERA on the year and could move from the 'pen to the rotation if need be, but then there'd be a need for a new long man in the relief corps. Carson Fulmer is unlikely to be moved back into a starting role after a shift to the bullpen last season in the minor leagues. He's had mixed results out of the big league bullpen this season, with a 4.76 ERA.

If you're a member of the "get rid of Nova and Santana" camp, it's unlikely you've made it this far without screaming Dallas Keuchel's name at your screen. Keuchel won the AL Cy Young Award in 2015 and was a featured player in the Houston Astros' resurgence from bottom-of-the-standings laughing stock to World Series champions just two years ago. He's also one of the two most noteworthy victims of this winter's glacially paced free-agent market, still jobless as baseball nears the end of the season's opening month.

Keuchel would be an obvious upgrade to this or any starting rotation across the game, and his unsigned status makes him an option in the strictest sense of the definition. But it would seem mighty unlikely that he would be added to the staff of a team not expected to reach the ranks of the contenders until next season at the earliest. I've heard the argument that the White Sox should offer up a two-year deal and bring Keuchel aboard for the remainder of this season and for the next, when Cease and Kopech start the season in what figures to be a much improved rotation. But if someone wanted Keuchel on a two-year deal, they surely could have had him by now, as reports have talked about a lowered asking price and his willingness to join a team for just what's left of the 2019 campaign.

In other words, if you're waiting for Keuchel to come to the South Side, it sounds like you might be waiting for a while.

Gio Gonzalez? He was a name that was bandied about as an offseason option and is once again a free agent after the New York Yankees recently passed on putting him on their 40-man roster. The White Sox have a history with Gonzalez, yes, but if even the banged-up Yankees don't see a place for him, there might be plenty of other teams that feel similarly.

This is all a fancy way of saying that there aren't many attractive options, and so it's far more likely that the White Sox will stick with Nova and Santana for now and hope they can iron out their struggles. Nova, in particular, doesn't figure to be going anywhere, as the team gave up a prospect to get him this winter and owe him a $9,166,667 salary, the second highest on the team.

These starts have not been fun to watch for White Sox fans — and the vets aren't the only ones who have had them, with Rodon, Lopez and Giolito going through their own early season ups and downs, too — but these are the guys the White Sox are set to keep sending out there, hoping for a turnaround. Because the other options just aren't good ones.

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White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins on hitting, catching and a Dylan Cease story you have to hear

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Zack Collins on hitting, catching and a Dylan Cease story you have to hear

Chuck Garfien and Ryan McGuffey speak with Charlotte Knights catcher Zack Collins about

-His hot start to the season at the plate (5:30)

-How James McCann helped him with his catching during spring training (7:20)

-How he's changed his approach at the plate this season (13:10)

-What he orders at Chick-fil-A (15:40)

-Why he's not thinking or worrying about getting called up to the majors (17:50)

-An incredible story about Dylan Cease (20:30)

-His thoughts on Tim Anderson's bat flip (28:20) and more.

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

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White Sox Talk Podcast

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