White Sox

Blue Jays spoil James Shields' return in White Sox loss

Blue Jays spoil James Shields' return in White Sox loss

TORONTO — James Shields and the White Sox appeared to have everything under control on Sunday afternoon.

Then Toronto Blue Jays finally arrived.

Shields pitched well into the sixth inning in his first start in two months, but an offensive explosion helped the Blue Jays avoid a series sweep. Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales both homered late as Toronto sent the White Sox to a 7-3 loss in front of 46,599 at the Rogers Centre.

“One through nine you can’t take anything off,” Shields said. “They’ve got a good lineup over there. Just trying to mix up my pitches, my location, trying to get first-pitch outs. For the most part I was doing that. The last inning I needed to bear down right there but pretty good overall.”

Ironic that after he allowed a fair amount of loud outs in the previous two innings that it was a dinker that sent Shields to a no decision. Shields was efficient and stayed out of trouble for much of his first start since April 16. He worked off the outside edge to many of Toronto’s right-handed hitters, which allowed him to avoid trouble much of the way. Shields stranded a pair in the first inning and two more in the fourth after he allowed a pair of deep fly balls outs to Jose Bautista and Morales.

Toronto nearly broke through in the fifth with a bunch of hard contact, including an RBI single by Kevin Pillar to cut the White Sox lead to 3-1. But Yolmer Sanchez made a nice stop up the middle to take a hit away from Bautista and end the inning.

Shields then quickly retired the first two men in the sixth inning before Troy Tulowitzki reached base with a dribbler up the third-base line that somehow stayed fair long enough to hit the base. Shields worked away to Martin but he got enough of a 1-1 cut-fastball to sneak it over the center-field fence for a game-tying, two-run homer.

“I didn’t think it was going to get out,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said. “I thought Willy (Garcia) had a nice read on it. It looked like it hit the top of the wall. (Shields) gave us a nice outing. …

“He did a very, very good job of keeping us there.”

Shields had hoped to go deeper into the game for a starting staff that is starved for length. White Sox pitchers have produced only five quality starts in the team’s last 26 games. But aside from that, Shields said he felt good in taking the mound after the first disabled list-stint of his career.

“In between innings I was telling the umpire at second base I need to slow myself down a little bit,” Shields said. “Being in the league as long as I have, I still got excited out there. So I was trying to be real methodical with my rhythm. It felt good to be out there.

“I wanted to go deeper in the game. Obviously, 3-1 ballgame, you’ve got to get that out. I got two outs quick in the sixth right there. I’ve got to bear down and get the out.”

The White Sox bullpen struggled to record outs.

Ryan Goins’ two-out RBI triple off Anthony Swarzak put the Blue Jays ahead 4-3 in the sixth. They tacked on three more runs in the seventh inning, including a massive, 460-foot, two-run homer by Morales off Dan Jennings.

The White Sox finally broke through against J.A. Happ in the fifth inning. Sanchez had the third of three consecutive singles to make it 1-0. Jose Abreu’s two-out, two-run single past Tulowitzki gave them a three-run lead. But Happ avoided further damage with a strikeout of Avisail Garcia, one of nine K’s on the day for the veteran left-hander.

“We kept trying to grind. Shieldsy was containing them good up to the homer,” Renteria said. “We were battling when Swarzy came in and we didn't get the result we wanted. I don't think you can put your head down, we won a series.”

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season


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.

Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future


Avisail Garcia is back from his lengthy DL stay just in time to prove he's a part of White Sox long-term future

For the first time in two months, Avisail Garcia is back in the White Sox lineup.

Garcia’s return from his lengthy stay on the disabled list was a refreshing sight for a team that came into the season believing he’d be one of its biggest bats. After all, Garcia was excellent in 2017, an All-Star campaign for him that saw him with some of the best hitting statistics in the American League.

But even with those good numbers, there were plenty of questions about where Garcia stood in the rebuilding White Sox long-term future. After a long wait for that breakout season, was it going to be the new normal or a one-hit wonder? He’s got just two more seasons of team control left, and there are a ton of outfield prospects developing behind him in the minor leagues.

His admittedly slow start this year didn’t help clarify anything: He returned to action with a .233/.250/.315 slash line, a far cry from the .330/.380/.506 line he finished with last season.

So now he’s back, and the “prove it” season resumes. He’s got time left to show the White Sox he can fend off challenges from the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Blake Rutherford, Luis Alexander Basabe, Micker Adolfo and all the rest. Getting back on the field is the first step in doing that.

“Be healthy and play hard like I’ve been playing all my career,” Garcia said Friday. “Just trying stay healthy, do my routine and do my best to help my team win.

“My knee is good. My hamstring is good. I have no pain in my body right now. I feel great, great and focused and trying to compete every single day.”

The injury — injuries, it turns out — certainly didn’t help. After the hamstring strain he suffered turned out to be a tad more significant than originally believed, he suffered a separate knee injury during his recovery that kept him on the shelf a while longer.

But Garcia showed that maybe his bat is ready to come back to life during his rehab at Triple-A Charlotte. He slashed an eye-popping .360/.429/.840 with three home runs, three doubles and nine RBIs in just seven games.

No one’s expecting that kind of production now that he’s back at the major league level. But plenty of fans and observers are expecting a lot who is still young enough to warrant consideration for a spot on the White Sox next contending team. He’s got the advantage of already playing at the big league level to show off for all the decision makers.

But there’s no doubt that it’s a stacked group behind him. Jimenez, the third-ranked prospect in baseball, was just promoted to Triple-A. A trio of high-performing outfielders — Basabe, Alex Call and Joel Booker — just got bumped up to Double-A. And perhaps the most exciting group of all — Robert, Rutherford, Adolfo and Luis Gonzalez — are all playing together at Class A Winston-Salem.

That’s an awful lot of young, inexpensive depth to contend with in the discussion for how the White Sox should align their outfield of the future. But Garcia can still stay in that discussion by doing one thing: hitting. His quest to turn his season around starts now.