White Sox

Chris Sale good in return but White Sox lose to Cubs

Chris Sale good in return but White Sox lose to Cubs

He wasn't as sharp as a knife, but Chris Sale was still pretty good in his return to the mound on Thursday night.

Following a nine-day layoff, including a five-game suspension for insubordination and destruction of team property, Sale pitched well enough for a victorious return. But John Lackey and the Cubs bullpen were even better and the White Sox fell 3-1 in front 41,157 at Wrigley Field and had to settle for a Crosstown Cup series split.

Sale, who also singled in two at-bats, allowed two runs and six hits with three walks in six innings. The White Sox dropped to 50-52 as they head to Minneapolis for a three-game series against the Minnesota Twins.

Nobody quite knew what to expect as Sale returned to his team for the first time since he was sent home Saturday for destroying the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was supposed to wear that night.

“It could go a lot of ways,” catcher Dioner Navarro said. “But I expect him to show up. He’s mature enough and he knows what he’s doing. 

“It’s weird. It’s a crazy situation, but I think if somebody can handle it it’s him. Hopefully, he deals today and we won’t talk about this for a little bit.”

Wearing a suit for the road trip to Minneapolis, Sale smiled as he arrived in the visiting clubhouse at 4:42 p.m. Upon entering the constricted confines of the visiting clubhouse, Sale was greeted by a series of fist bumps and hugs. Seated on the floor, outfielder Melky Cabrera shouted “my man” and jumped up to bear hug Sale, stealing a second hug as the pitcher walked away. Todd Frazier and J.B. Shuck also instantly met Sale before he headed to his corner of the clubhouse and teammates Navarro, Matt Albers, Carlos Rodon and Tyler Saladino walked over, too.  

With his return coming in the midst of the Crosstown Cup finale, teammates were uncertain what kind of atmosphere Sale would face at Wrigley.

“I know the crowd’s going to be a little crazy,” Frazier said. “I think everybody in the world kind of knows what happened, and we’re on the North Side, so we’re going to hear some crazy stuff here.”

About 40 minutes before first pitch, Sale began to warm up in right field. Near the end of his long-toss session with Navarro, Sale walked to the bullpen and handed a young girl wearing a Sale T-shirt a baseball. As he began to throw off the mound, a number of curious fans began to snap pictures with their phones (even a beer vendor briefly stopped). Another, wearing a green pinstriped Jon Garland White Sox jersey, took a selfie as Sale warmed up. Though a few wisecracks were made, the scene was relatively tame.

With Sale returning only hours before he took the mound, Ventura -- who hadn’t talked to his pitcher in several days -- didn’t expect the left-hander would have much time to address teammates. He thought Sale might talk to players a few at a time over the next few days, though Frazier believed it might happen before he pitched Thursday. Asked if he thought Sale would apologize, Frazier said: “That’s a good question. I think he knows what he did wrong. I think he’s a guy of his word. I think he understands how much winning means to him. I’ve had an opportunity to talk to him and, you know, he’s ready to go. He just wants to play. I’m sure he’ll talk to us before the game. Whatever he has to say, if it deals with winning, we’ll take it.”

The White Sox offered their All-Star a welcome back gift with an early run when Melky Cabrera doubled in a run in the first inning.

But Lackey found a rhythm and retired 16 of 19 after Cabrera’s double. No out was bigger than the last of the sixth inning as Lackey induced a pop up on the infield from Jose Abreu with the go-ahead run at first.

Down 2-1, the White Sox threatened once more in the eighth inning as Saladino doubled off Hector Rondon. Rondon recorded two outs before Aroldis Chapman took over and struck out Cabrera with the tying at third.

The effort was enough to outdo Sale, who was hurt by walks in the first and third innings.

Dexter Fowler drew a nine-pitch leadoff walk in the first inning and Kris Bryant, who homered off Sale in the All-Star Game earlier this month, nearly did it again, settled for an RBI double off the centerfield fence. Sale stranded the go-ahead run however, retiring Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras to keep it tied at 1.

After Sale hit Fowler and walked Bryant to start the the third, Zobrist hit a comebacker just past Sale in the third for an RBI single and a 2-1 Cubs lead.

But even though he wasn’t pinpoint, Sale never broke.

After stranding a runner at third base in the first inning, he did it again in the fifth. He also struck out pinch-hitter David Ross with two on in the sixth. Though it didn’t result in a victory, Sale gave the White Sox what they needed.

“He's a great kid,” Ventura said. “This doesn't change that. We've seen him do some really great stuff. I know I've done some stuff that I wouldn't want people to know. We're in an age where in what he's doing is his job, but sometimes you don't get that luxury. I think for him, he's just going to go pitch and we'll move on from there.”

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

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USA TODAY

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

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USA TODAY

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.