White Sox

Chris Sale struggles before White Sox rally to win


Chris Sale struggles before White Sox rally to win

Chris Sale hasn’t quite been himself the past two starts.

One game after he yielded a career-high nine runs, Sale tied his career mark with five walks. Without his customary command, Sale got hit hard by the Detroit Tigers but his teammates made it moot with an eighth-inning rally and a 7-6 White Sox victory at U.S. Cellular Field.

Sale, whose ERA has risen from 2.37 to 5.93 the past two starts, allowed five earned runs and seven hits while striking out six in 5 1/3 innings.

“It was just one of those days,” catcher Tyler Flowers said. “He just didn’t have a good feel, good rhythm, tempo, those kinds of things. It kind of seemed to be like that, he missed a lot of spots.”

[MORE: White Sox stun Tigers with four in eighth to win second straight]

While in Minneapolis last week, pitching coach Don Cooper said the left-hander’s slider may be behind because Sale missed several weeks of spring training with a fractured bone in his right foot. On Tuesday afternoon, Sale said his wipeout slider “is always” behind his other pitchers.

Sale threw 14 sliders Wednesday, 11 for strikes. But the pitch that hurt him most was the changeup.

After he walked Miguel Cabrera in the third inning, Sale left a 0-2 changeup over the plate to Victor Martinez, who hit a two-run homer to put Detroit ahead by two. Cabrera singled in a run to put the Tigers ahead 4-3 two innings later when Sale left another two-strike changeup in the zone.

“He’s usually pretty money going in on righties and he made a few mistakes there,” Flowers said. “Arm-side is a little bit tougher for him and we missed a lot arm-side when we were trying to go out there. I just think it’s an off day for him. It’s not a very Chris Sale line at the end of the day, but he’s still competed and gave us a chance. That’s a tough lineup and to not feel great against that lineup makes it even more challenging. Honestly, all in all, for not feeling good and not having good command or his best stuff, it’s not really too terrible a job. He gave us a chance.”

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Sale threw strikes on only 66 of 109 pitches. He’s expected to begin serving a five-game suspension on Thursday and make his next start in Milwaukee next Tuesday.

“You’re going to have good ones, you’re going to have bad ones,” Sale said. “You’re going to have a few good ones in a row, you’re going to have a few bad ones in a row. I think the most important thing is just staying true to yourself and grinding it out.”

Yasmani Grandal getting younger White Sox ready for 'playoff mode' all season

Yasmani Grandal getting younger White Sox ready for 'playoff mode' all season

“It's going to be either really good, or it's going to be really bad.”

That’s not the most ringing of endorsements, and it’s probably not the assessment the White Sox want to be hearing about their pitching staff right now, preferring the first half without the possibility of the second.

But, hey, you ask Yasmani Grandal a question, you’re going to get an honest answer.

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The White Sox new catcher, the owner of the richest free-agent deal in club history, hasn’t had as much time as he wanted to work with the young pitching staff he cited as the main reason he signed up way back in November. Grandal has said repeatedly that he sees the White Sox bright future in the team’s collection of young arms. And while Michael Kopech has decided not to play in 2020, there is still a lot of pitching talent going through “Summer Camp” right now.

Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Reynaldo López, Carlos Rodón, Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert. They’re all youngsters, part of the long-term planning on the South Side. Throw in the veteran free-agent addition Dallas Keuchel, and this is a deep, talented group.

But this is 2020. And no one knows what’s going to happen next.

Baseball’s typical six-month marathon has been jettisoned thanks to the sport’s months-long layoff, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the fruitless negotiations between the league and the players’ union shrinking the season to just 60 games. An abrupt halt to spring training back in March, months without baseball and now a brief three-week ramp-up period ahead of a two-month sprint to the postseason means it’s anyone’s guess what big league pitchers will be able to do.

Grandal’s hopeful, because he knows the kind of talent the White Sox have. He’s also realistic. And that means nothing’s guaranteed.

“There isn't going to be a gray area,” Grandal said Tuesday. “Sixty games is a very small window that we have to put everything together, so it's going to be either really good or it's going to be really bad, just because you don't have the time to kind of take them by the hand and go from there.

“In 162 games, you're able to do that. But this month that we have here (during "Summer Camp"), that's what we're focusing on is showing them things and taking them through different situations and things like that to be able to mimic something season-like before the season starts.”

RELATED: Why the White Sox are ready to take the next step: Free-agent additions

While the only known about the 2020 season seems to be that everything is unknown, one consistent talking point from the older players is a prediction that this two-month sprint could feature playoff-style baseball from Day 1. That’s partially a factor of the short schedule, with every game meaning twice or thrice as much as it normally would and carrying much more weight in the race for a postseason berth.

But it also has to do with the mysterious state of pitching. And with those two elements combined, we could see some creative pitching management from managers across the league. The kind of bullpen-heavy styles used by the Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays in recent seasons could become commonplace. The quick hooks for starting pitchers and heavy reliance on relief pitchers seen in the postseason could be the norm in this most abnormal of years.

“I already have an understanding how you can go through a whole pitching staff in a matter of 60 games. Look at what Milwaukee did last year,” Grandal said. “So as soon as the season starts, you’re almost in playoff mode. You’re not going to have one or two bad innings or one or two bad starts, it’s going to be one of those things where everybody needs to be ready.

“I don’t think I’m going to see too many people go seven or eight innings. Around the league guys are going to go five, and the whole bullpen is coming right after. In our case, we have the ability to throw one or two starters in a game, back to back, so they go a full game. So for us, that’s a plus. I don’t know how other teams are, but I know for us, the pitching staff, on the pitching side we’re in a good spot.”

The White Sox could certainly benefit from their deep staff, both their groups of starters and relievers. But here’s one thing about “playoff mode” that could present a challenge: Most of these players have never been to the playoffs or been in a playoff race. That’s an obvious statement in reference to the team’s general youth. But even six-year vet José Abreu has never played for a winning White Sox team.

That’s where the White Sox will surely lean on Grandal, Keuchel, Edwin Encarnación and Steve Cishek, all newcomers with winning experience, some of them a lot of it. Grandal is a veteran of the last five postseasons with the Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers. Keuchel has a World Series ring on his resume after his Houston Astros beat Grandal’s Dodgers in 2017. Encarnación has specific experience winning in the AL Central; he spent two seasons with the division-rival Cleveland Indians.

RELATED: White Sox test drive MLB's new extra-inning rule, and it doesn't look great

So in addition to all the stuff Grandal brings on the field — power and on-base skills to the lineup, pitch-framing skills, defensive prowess and ability to work with pitchers behind the plate — he’s also bringing a rare positive to the White Sox clubhouse: He’s been there and done that. If anyone’s ready for two months’ worth of playoff-style baseball, it’s him. And he’ll know how to make it an easy transition for the uninitiated around him.

“First and foremost, they need to understand the situation and exactly why we’re doing the things we’re doing,” Grandal said. “For myself, being a young guy and not quite understanding why we were making moves at certain times, it was hard. But until someone actually explained it to me and I got to study it and understand the reason behind, and seeing examples of it, once I learned that I understood why you go a certain amount of innings, amount of pitches in order to bring your bullpen in.

“It’s going to be a process. These guys need to understand that, and understand it’s going to be for their benefit. A lot of these guys are young, they’re just getting their feet wet. I think this is a perfect opportunity for them to do it.”

So whether the pitching ends up really good or really bad, Grandal will be along for the ride. He’s confident the White Sox are in a good spot with their talent and depth. Now it’s about going out and proving it with everything on the line from Day 1.


Why it's unlikely Garrett Crochet will pitch for the White Sox in 2020

Why it's unlikely Garrett Crochet will pitch for the White Sox in 2020

The thought of Garrett Crochet taking the Chris Sale path to the major leagues was all the rage on draft night.

A month later, it doesn't sound like White Sox fans should get their hopes up.

Crochet was one of 16 players named to the White Sox "taxi squad" on Tuesday, a group of minor leaguers who will work out in Schaumburg to stay ready in case injuries or underperformance at the major league level necessitate their presence on the active roster. But with 13 of the players currently in big league camp mathematically prevented from making the Opening Day rosters, these additional 16 guys strike more as backups to the backups.

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Crochet is a different case, though, as he's been talked up as a pitcher who could arrive in the bigs in a hurry — expressing his own desire to take on that challenge on a recent edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast — with stuff so good there were people on TV on draft night speculating that he could be a weapon in a 2020 pennant race.

But though he agreed that Crochet has "present major league stuff," White Sox head of player development Chris Getz made it sound pretty unlikely that the team that's been so patient with its prospects during its rebuild would suddenly thrust someone with no pro experience into the big league spotlight.

"We feel like he has present major league stuff," Getz said Tuesday, "but really it’s about getting him here, getting him comfortable with our staff, shaking hands, getting to know you, know our philosophies and watch him develop this summer. That was the plan for Garrett.

"He doesn't have too many innings under his belt. And then you factor in a layoff like everyone else, we want to build him up appropriately. But we also just want him to get comfortable with being a White Sox. We'll certainly start with one inning and tack on two innings. There's some pitch-development things we're certainly going to work on with Garrett.

"He does have present major league stuff, without question, but our job on the development side is to get the most out of this player. ... I don't think we need to necessarily focus on a major league radar for Garrett, I think it's more just getting comfortable with the organization."

It figures to be challenging enough for major league veterans to be able to perform at the top of their game after a months-long layoff and a brief three-week ramp-up to a 60-game regular season. Crochet has never thrown an inning of pro ball, and he made just one start during his junior year at the University of Tennessee. In his collegiate career, in total, he pitched in just 36 games.

RELATED: White Sox name 16 to Schaumburg taxi squad, but their '20 impact seems minimal

White Sox fans were hopping mad when the team wouldn't promote Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert at the ends of dominant minor league seasons, after they'd spent multiple years in the minor leagues. Crochet has nowhere near that level of experience, and the COVID-19 pandemic limited his ability to play at any level.

As good as the stuff might be, it would be one heck of a gamble to throw him into a major league season, especially one where every game is expected to be dripping with meaning in a two-month pennant chase.

Of course, front-office types don't like to make end-all, be-all declarations, and so not even Getz would say "never" to the thought of Crochet making a sprint to the bigs. But it sure sounds like the White Sox have a bunch of priorities ahead of making Crochet a part of their 2020 bullpen.

"In an environment like this, it's tough to rule anything out," he said. "Garrett's a talented player, but the focus is truly just to get his foot in the door here and get around our guys and we'll go from there."