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.”

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

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USA TODAY

White Sox sign Enoy Jimenez, the 17-year-old brother of Eloy Jimenez

One Jimenez just isn't enough for the White Sox.

The White Sox signed the younger brother of top prospect Eloy Jimenez this weekend. Enoy Jimenez is a 17-year-old infielder, and the 21-year-old outfielder ranked as the No. 3 prospect in baseball was on hand for his brother's big moment.

Eloy figures to hit the big leagues early next season, though it will likely be a while longer before his teenage brother could do the same. Still, they're likely hoping for the chance to play together one day.

According to this pretty exhaustive list from MLB.com, four sets of brothers have played together on the White Sox: Homer and Ted Blankenship in the 1920s, Dick and Hank Allen in the 1970s, Roberto and Sandy Alomar in 2003 and 2004 and John and Jordan Danks in 2012.

Should we be getting ready for the fifth pair?

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

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USA TODAY

Matt Davidson's incredibly interesting 2018

This season, Matt Davidson became the fourth player in MLB history to hit three home runs in a season opener. It definitely raised a few eyebrows, especially after Paul Konerko noted during spring training that a 40-home run season and an All-Star selection isn’t out of the question for the California native. After clobbering nine home runs (seven of them coming at Kauffman Stadium) in his first 21 games, anything seemed possible.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite turn out that way, though he did rack up his second straight 20-homer season. But it’s hard to argue that 2018 wasn’t a success for Davidson — mostly because of the swings he didn’t make.

Everything else aside, Davidson walked as often as Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in 2018.

OK, the more meaningful comparison would be Davidson to himself.

What stands out is his walk rate. One hundred fifty three players had at least 400 plate appearances in both 2017 and 2018. Among them, Davidson had the second-highest increase in walk percentage this past season.

Consider this: In 2017, Davidson and Tim Anderson became (and still are) the only players in MLB history with 160-plus strikeouts and fewer than 20 walks in a season.

Davidson, while logging 20 more at-bats in 2018, had the same number of strikeouts, 165, but he increased his walk total from 19 to 52. Give him credit for that. It’s a tough adjustment to make at the minor league level let alone in the major leagues. The increased walk rate brought his on-base percentage from .260 in 2017 (well below the AL average of .324) to .319 in 2018 (a tick above the AL average of .318) and pushed his overall offensive production from 16 percent below league average (as measured by his 84 weighted runs created plus, or wRC+) to four percent above league average (104 wRC+).

And I haven’t even mentioned the most fun aspect of his 2018 season: He pitched! And he pitched well.

Thirty pitchers took the mound for the White Sox in 2018, all of whom made at least three appearances. And only one of them didn’t allow a run: Davidson.

He topped out at 91.9 MPH and had as many strikeouts, two, as baserunners allowed in his three innings of work. The two batters he struck out, Rougned Odor and Giancarlo Stanton, combined for 56 home runs in 2018. They combined for 89 home runs (and an MVP award) in 2017.

In his career, Stanton had a combined 16 plate appearances and zero strikeouts against Barry Zito, CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Edwin Díaz. He struck out in his one plate appearance against Davidson.

Davidson is one of just three players with 20 or more home runs and at least three mound appearances in a season in MLB history:

— Babe Ruth (1919): 29 home runs, 17 games on the mound
— Davidson (2018): 20 home runs, three games on the mound
— Shohei Ohtani (2018): 22 home runs, 10 games on the mound

Facts are facts. Davidson is actually serious about expanding his role on the mound.

“To be honest, I would love to maybe explore that idea,” he said in July. “Pitching was a dream. As a young kid, everybody wants to hit that walk-off homer, right? I was the guy striking that guy out. That’s how I first loved the game. My favorite player was Randy Johnson and doing that.

“So, it’s something I would be interested in. I don’t know if the game would necessarily allow that or something like that. It’s something that is really close to my heart is pitching.”

Whether or not it ever happens, Davidson’s 2018 was all about finding ways to increase his value. For the White Sox, that’s a good problem to have.