White Sox

Brett Lawrie's homer paces White Sox in win over Indians in Game 1

Brett Lawrie's homer paces White Sox in win over Indians in Game 1

Brett Lawrie and Mat Latos made a long Monday a little easier for the White Sox.

Latos had his best start in a month and Lawrie made it hold up when he blasted a three-run homer in the fifth inning to propel the White Sox to a 7-6 win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 1 of a doubleheader at U.S. Cellular Field.

The homer by Lawrie, who also singled and walked three times, put Latos (6-1) ahead for good. Todd Frazier also homered and David Robertson stranded the tying run on second in a scoreless ninth as the White Sox moved back to 3.5 games in front of the Indians in the American League Central.

“Fantastic,” Latos said of the homer. “We got everybody up off the bench, put a little life in the dugout. He just told me, ‘I’ve got to have you shut them down here right here to keep us here.’ And we were able to get a W.”

Latos took to his designated hitter’s instructions seriously.

While he made a few mistakes — Mike Napoli and Marlon Byrd homered on hanging offspeed pitches — Latos produced his top start since April 24.

Some of his best work came near the end.

Working with improved fastball command — he threw strikes on 58 of 83 pitches — Latos induced plenty of weak contact. He cruised through four of his six innings.

But he also twice surrendered the lead, including allowing a two-run homer to Byrd in the fourth to tie it at 3.

Lawrie gave Latos one more opportunity with two outs in the fifth inning.

Shortly after Jose Abreu popped out with two on, Lawrie fell behind Indians starter Steve Clevinger 1-2 in the count. Lawrie laid off two offspeed pitches and launched a 3-2 fastball for a three-run homer and a 6-3 lead. Lawrie went 2-for-2 with three walks.

Latos made it count.

Not only did he strand the go-ahead run in the fifth after Michael Martinez doubled with no outs, Latos struck out two in a 1-2-3 sixth inning. He allowed three earned runs, five hits, walked one and struck out four in six innings and offered his club much-needed stability from the back end of the rotation.

“(Latos) was locating,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “They got him a couple times, but I thought he did enough for us to get it to the bullpen.”

White Sox relievers nearly made the opener a much longer affair.

Zach Duke, who pitched a scoreless seventh, walked Carlos Santana to start the eighth and Jason Kipnis doubled. Matt Albers retired the first two men he faced with an RBI groundout by Napoli making it a 7-4 game. But Nate Jones was needed to record the final out of the inning after Albers lost a 10-pitch battle with Jose Ramirez, who crushed a 3-2 sinker for a two-run homer to right to get Cleveland within a run.

Robertson walked Rajai Davis to start the ninth inning before he pitched out of it. Davis stole second but Robertson struck out Marlon Byrd and Martinez and got Carlos Sanchez to ground out.

The White Sox offense jumped all over Clevinger.

Frazier’s first-inning solo homer, his American League-leading 14th homer, made it 1-0. Frazier reached base in four of five plate appearances.

Two innings later, Jimmy Rollins regained a 2-1 lead for the White Sox with a one-out RBI single to right to score Austin Jackson, who doubled. The White Sox added a run in the fourth on Jackson’s two-out, RBI single to score Lawrie, who opened the inning with a single and a stolen base.

The White Sox tacked on another run and appeared to pull away in the seventh when Jackson — who also had three hits — forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk to make it 7-3.

While a number of stranded runners and the bullpen’s struggles made it close, the White Sox emerged with a big victory.

“It’s important to win the first one,” Lawrie said. “It sets the tone and allows us to roll right into the next one.

“It’s a long day. You know especially going into the second game, you are not going to have the full firepower that all nine guys had in the beginning.”

Michael Kopech's arrival shows White Sox and a rebuild-loving fan base what progress looks like

Michael Kopech's arrival shows White Sox and a rebuild-loving fan base what progress looks like

Tangible, visible, hit-you-over-the-head obvious signs of progress have at times seemed hard to come by for the rebuild-loving legions watching the White Sox on a nightly basis during this developmental 2018 campaign.

That’s not to say there haven’t been tons of positives throughout the organization. Those who sprung for the MiLB.TV package have been able to see every Eloy Jimenez home run, and people around the baseball world found out just how fantastic Dylan Cease has been when he represented the organization at the Futures Game.

But the inconsistencies of Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, the strikeout-heavy first full major league season from Yoan Moncada and the early season demotion of Carson Fulmer have left those watching the big league team praying for some sign that things are improving.

Enter Michael Kopech.

The news that the team’s top-ranked pitching prospect, one of the top 15 prospects in baseball, will make his major league debut Tuesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field must have seemed like an oasis in a 31-games-below-.500 desert when it was announced Sunday afternoon.

It’s sure to make for an even more hyped atmosphere than the one that greeted Yoan Moncada last July, when the No. 1 prospect in the game made his debut in a White Sox uniform. And while the architects of this rebuilding effort know the inner workings of the organization like no outsider ever could, they’re going to be part of that atmosphere Tuesday, too, part of a celebration of progress coming to the South Side.

“As focused as we have been, the front office and even White Sox fans, on the future and progress we feel we’re making, we’ve also been tested,” general manager Rick Hahn said on a conference call Monday morning. “We’ve talked about, going back to last offseason, this would very likely be the most difficult year of the rebuild and the patience this year would require would be a challenge for all of us. So I do think it’s important to try and enjoy these moments along the way where you do see that progress.

“We can talk all we want about how we’re only in Year 2 and that it is going to take time and there is a bright future ahead of us, but we’re all human, we’re all sports fans, we all want to see progress along the way. That has nothing to do with the timing of making a move like this, but when a move like this does occur and when the developmental reasons line up accordingly, we all should take a moment to enjoy the progress and excitement that comes.”

Those paying close enough attention knew what Hahn cautioned prior to the beginning of the season, that this was going to be the hardest part of the rebuild. Tom Petty said it first, to be fair, that the waiting is the hardest part, and that’s what 2018 was always going to be for the White Sox, a waiting game. The incredible amount of talent Hahn brought into the system needed time to develop, and in many cases it still does.

And so during that waiting came what fans and observers have seen on a nightly basis at the major league level. For the young players who are still slated to be key pieces of the team’s long-term plans, we’ve seen growing pains and the continued development that comes in the bigs. In certain cases, we’ve seen players who are fighting to make themselves a part of the long-term plans and players who simply won’t end up being a part of those long-term plans.

But few players are expected to have as a big a starring role as Kopech, hence the excitement surrounding his promotion. He’s tantalized with his last seven starts at Triple-A Charlotte, posting a 1.84 ERA with a ridiculous strikeout-to-walk ratio — 59 punch outs and only four free passes — over his last 44 innings.

While fans have been clamoring for promotions — be it of Kopech or top-ranked prospect Eloy Jimenez — for months, it’s taken this long into the season for a big one to come to the major league team. That, too, has all been part of the plan. Hahn mentioned multiple times throughout the year that how the team handled Giolito and Lopez a season ago could be a kind of template for how they handled Kopech this season. And while all three are different pitchers dealing with their own developments, Kopech will make his debut one day away from the one-year anniversary of Giolito’s White Sox debut.

In the end, though, Kopech’s promotion is the manifestation of the patience Hahn said everyone involved with this organization — him and his own front office included — had to practice this season. The White Sox waited until they knew Kopech was absolutely ready. They didn’t make a promotion to better a team that wasn’t contending for a playoff spot or to please an antsy fan base hungry to see progress happen as soon as possible. Baseball players constantly say that it’s all about execution. Well, Hahn and the White Sox executed their plan exactly how they wanted.

“Outside noise or emotion or even passion or excitement for seeing the rebuild progress has nothing to do with our decisions in terms of the timing of promotions,” Hahn said. “Each of these decisions are motivated by what’s best in terms of putting both the organization and the individual player in the best long-term position to reach their potential.

“We knew the 2018 season would be a challenging one and one in which we were going to have to not fall prey to outside influences or the influence of outside factors beyond what’s best for the organization and what’s best for our players’ long-term development. It’s going to require patience. I think you’ve seen that we’ve exhibited that this season, and we’re going to have to continue to do that throughout the coming weeks and months.

“The short-term gratification that would come from eliminating white noise or promoting a high-profile player just isn’t worth it when you consider the long-term benefits that come from us just showing the requisite patience that is required to put these guys in the best long-term position to succeed.”

Now it’s time for Kopech to execute his own plan and meet the huge expectations he has for himself and that Chicago has for him.

But for those watching the big league team, this is the hit-you-over-the-head sign of progress you’ve been waiting for, a tangible sign that the rebuild is moving forward.

White Sox Talk Podcast: White Sox call up Michael Kopech

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: White Sox call up Michael Kopech

With the big news that Michael Kopech is coming to the majors, Chuck Garfien and Vinnie Duber talk about the decision by the Sox to bring up their top pitching prospect and the excitement that Kopech will bring to the team and the 2018 season.

Kevan Smith discusses what kind of stuff Kopech has and what it was like catching him in the minor leagues. Plus, they talk about Paul Konerko’s unforgettable day in the booth with Hawk Harrelson.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: