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Confidence scheme: White Sox hope to convince Dan Jennings he's ready

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Confidence scheme: White Sox hope to convince Dan Jennings he's ready

They believe he has the proper tools and now its up to the White Sox to convince Dan Jennings he’s ready for primetime.

When they acquired the left-hander from the Miami Marlins in December, the White Sox could see the makings of a potential key piece to their bullpen -- albeit an untested one. Though Jennings entered the season with a 2.43 career ERA, he’s out of minor league options and only appeared in critical spots in 20 percent of his appearances.

While they made a few minor mechanical adjustments this spring and he’s added a two-seam fastball, the White Sox believe the biggest improvement would be improved confidence. The way manager Robin Ventura has employed Jennings in the first week -- twice in big spots -- has begun to give Jennings faith he’s the man for the job.

“It’s a great feeling knowing a manager can go to you in that situation and give him another option down there and bridge the gap,” Jennings said. “Knowing he has that confidence to give me the ball, it extends to me that confidence to go out there and do the job.”

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His 8.10 ERA might not indicate it, but Jennings has done exactly what the White Sox have asked in his three appearances this season.

On Sunday, he induced an inning-ending double play in the seventh from Oswaldo Arcia.

Jennings’ other big spot was Opening Day with the White Sox down three runs. He walked two (one intentionally), but Jennings also retired Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer and induced a potential inning-ending grounder off Alex Gordon’s bat only for his middle infielders to misplay it into a two-run single. Instead of a scoreless inning, Jennings allowed three earned runs.

But there’s more than enough there for him to build off of, said teammate and throwing partner Zach Duke.

[MORE WHITE SOX: White Sox won't rule out Jose Abreu playing some third base]

“I don't think Dan gives himself enough credit,” Duke said. “If you look at his track record in the big leagues, it's really good.

“He probably feels the way he does because he kind of fell victim to the business of baseball. He's probably one of the only guys who had options so he got shuffled between Triple-A and the big leagues no matter what his numbers were.

“He works his tail off, he's not complacent, he doesn't feel like he's good enough yet, which is great. But he's really good.”

Tall and athletic with a consistent 92-mph fastball, the White Sox think enough of Jennings that they traded Andre Rienzo to Miami in exchange. Pitching coach Don Cooper said the only mechanical change he’s made is to keep Jennings taller in his delivery.

Cooper likes Jennings’ slider and the addition of the two-seam fastball, a pitch developed this offseason and with which he has grown comfortable.

He wants Jennings to improve upon his career mark of 4.1 walks per nine innings and to become more effectively against lefties, who hit .291/.358/.403 against him while righties have a .237/.326/.384 slash.

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But with the pieces in place, Cooper thinks those goals are attainable.

“We’re going to try to see if we can take him further,” Cooper said. “He’s got the equipment.

“Any time you can get a lefty that’s throwing 92, 93 with a good shape to the breaking ball and all he needs is more consistent strikes, well I think we’ve been OK getting guys like that and doing things with them.

“We’re fortunate to get an arm like that.”

Jennings feels just as good about his situation with the White Sox. While he’s not in position to take Duke’s setup role just yet, Jennings believes he’ll have plenty of chances to work in big spots. He intends to build the trust of Ventura and Cooper “over time,” he said.

“For me it's having confidence both ways -- knowing they have confidence in me and having me have confidence in myself, knowing they can put me out there in any situation and I'll go get people out,” Jennings said. “If they feel good about me that goes a long way because all of a sudden they can put me in those situations. As I long as I do my job the rest will take care of itself.”

White Sox Talk Podcast: The 10th anniversary of Mark Buehrle's perfect game

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NBC SPORTS CHICAGO

White Sox Talk Podcast: The 10th anniversary of Mark Buehrle's perfect game

Chuck Garfien and Steve Stone take a look back at Mark Buehrle's perfect game. How did Buehrle do it? How did Dewayne Wise make that catch?

Plus, Buehrle and A.J. Pierzynski talk about how Buehrle actually told Pierzynski before taking that field that day that he would throw a perfect game and more.

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

White Sox Talk Podcast

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Yoan Moncada cleans up for White Sox: 'I think we found our No. 4 hitter'

Yoan Moncada cleans up for White Sox: 'I think we found our No. 4 hitter'

Though Jose Abreu and James McCann represented the team at the All-Star Game earlier this month, Yoan Moncada holds the title of the White Sox best hitter through the first 97 games of the 2019 season.

The guy who struck out 217 times during his first full season in the majors last year has been a completely different hitter this time around. Instead of looking lost at the plate, he’s the guy White Sox fans want to see at the plate in run-producing situations. He hasn’t spent much time in one of those traditional run-producing spots in the batting order, but manager Rick Renteria inserted Moncada into the cleanup spot Monday night.

And Moncada cleaned up, all right.

“I think we found our No. 4 hitter,” starting pitcher Ivan Nova said after he went the distance in a 9-1 waxing of the Miami Marlins. “A lot of times you get surprised. While he was hitting second, you're thinking and knowing, the type of hitter that he is — you're only thinking as a player, they have another way to think. But today, I think it was first time hit in fourth, and he showed.”

Moncada went 2-for-4 with the game’s biggest blow, a three-run homer in the fifth inning that blew things wide open. He drove in four runs on the night, and he flashed a potential glimpse of the future of this future-focused franchise.

Combining with Abreu, who went 2-for-3 with a two-run homer and three runs scored, Moncada showed what the middle of the order might look like for this team when rebuilding finally transitions to contending. That could come as soon as next year, and when you throw the currently injured Eloy Jimenez into that group, the White Sox could boast a fearsome 3-4-5 as soon as later this season.

“If someone is happy that we finally found a cleanup hitter, it’s me,” Abreu said through team interpreter Billy Russo. “Nothing that he does surprises me because I know all the talent he has. I know that he still can do more. He has been working hard. He’s a great baseball player with a lot of talent and I still think he can do more.

“What he did today is not a surprise for me. I still know he’s a great player and I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season this year. He’s going to get better.”

Moncada has been sensational all season long, proving why the White Sox weren’t at all worried during his struggles in 2018. He owns a .304/.362/.530 slash line through these first 97 games, and his three-run blast Monday night gave him a new career high in that category after he smacked 17 a year ago. He’s six RBIs away from setting a new career high there, too. And even though he made a fielding error Monday that only briefly delayed Nova finishing off his complete-game effort, Moncada has been generally excellent at third base in his first season at that position as a big leaguer.

But putting Moncada in a run-producing spot in the order is a new wrinkle for Renteria this season. Coming into Monday’s game, Moncada had spent 63 games as the team’s No. 2 hitter and just 26 everywhere else. According to the skipper, Moncada is good enough to hit anywhere, and that’s certainly true. His eventual everyday spot in the lineup might have more to do with the hitters around him than simply what he can do by himself.

But if Moncada keeps up the kind of offensive production he’s churned out this season, maybe sticking him right in the thick of the order is what's best for the White Sox — even if those lineups of the future include big bats like those swung by Abreu, Jimenez, Luis Robert and Andrew Vaughn.

“For me, it's an advantage to hit in the cleanup spot having (Abreu) ahead of me,” Moncada said through Russo. “That way, you can see how the pitchers are attacking him, and you have a better idea, in those situations when you need to produce, how the pitchers are doing it. Even though he's a right-handed hitter and I hit from both sides of the plate, it's good. It's something that gives you a better idea of how the pitchers are doing, how their pitches are working.”

“He had a nice game,” Renteria said. “He can hit anywhere in the middle and the top of the order. I wish I could say I'm really a genius, but I'm not. He's got that talent. He's able to take advantage of it and today he had a nice day. He made everybody look good.”

It would make sense to see Moncada batting fourth again as this first homestand of the second half and the 2019 season roll on, but that’s up to Renteria, who has his reasons for every permutation to his lineups.

Of course, if Abreu gets ahold of Renteria's lineup card and starts writing out the batting orders, we’ll know where Moncada will be slotted.

“If I would have that decision,” Abreu said, “I would put him in the cleanup spot for the rest of the season.”

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