White Sox

Is David Robertson's absence a preview of what's to come for White Sox?

Is David Robertson's absence a preview of what's to come for White Sox?

OAKLAND, Calif. -- In what could be a preview of the near future for the White Sox, David Robertson is off three days to attend the birth of his second child.

One of the team’s most sought after assets, the veteran closer was placed on the paternity list before Monday's 7-2 win over the Oakland A's and isn’t likely to rejoin until the White Sox reach Denver on Friday.

For now, the White Sox coaching staff must determine how to survive for three games without Robertson, who has provided stability to the back end of the bullpen. But if all goes according to plan, the White Sox could be in search of a new closer sometime later this month when Robertson is dealt to the highest bidder.

While the White Sox have several interesting internal options to fill the void -- and having a bonafide closer shouldn’t be a priority for a rebuilding club -- the lack of an anchor could leave the rest of the team’s bullpen in disarray. That’s a position the team has been in twice in the last decade, most recently in 2014, which led to Robertson signing a four-year, $46-million deal the following offseason.

“It’s no fun,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “When you lose a guy or two or when a guy can’t handle his job there’s more asked of others, there’s more put on another guy’s plate.”

You don’t have to look very far back to recall a similar predicament.

After Addison Reed was traded, the White Sox went into 2014 with Matt Lindstrom as their closer with the hope that either Nate Jones, Daniel Webb or another young arm would emerge as the eventual replacement.

Lindstrom got the first shot and kept his head above water until he suffered a devastating ankle injury in May. That’s when the job went to Ronald Belisario, who excelled in the eighth inning but couldn’t handle the ninth.

Meanwhile, what began as a sore gluteal muscle injury for Jones eventually resulted in back surgery. During his recovery, Jones’ elbow blew out and he required Tommy John surgery. Webb never panned out and the position remained unstable until Jake Petricka and Zach Putnam -- both of whom are now injured -- pitched well over the final two months. By then it was too late for the White Sox, who briefly flirted with a run at the second wild card spot before the bullpen collapsed around the same time Frank Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

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“It was a crazy year,” Petricka said. “It was a fun year. It’s what you always dream of and normally it takes years to get there. I was kind of in the right place at the wrong time. You don’t want injuries, but when injuries happen there’s an opportunity for somebody else and me and Putnam obviously were the beneficiaries of the opportunities. We both did real well, but now we’re fighting through our own injuries.”

Without Robertson, the 2017 bullpen could suffer a similar fate. Having suffered a rash of injuries and a heavy workload, the current unit has hung on by a thread in the first half only because of the performances of Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and Anthony Swarzak, who also could be dealt to a contender in July.

If he’s healthy, some scouts thought in late 2016 that Jones and his nasty fastball/slider combo had the potential makings of a lower-tier closer. Though he’s made enough progress to travel with the club for the first time in three road trips, Jones hasn’t thrown off a mound in more than a month. Meanwhile, Putnam is out for the season and Petricka was placed on the disabled list again only last week with a right elbow strain.

In the midst of a breakout season, Kahnle has some experience as a closer having temporarily handled the role with the Rockies in 2014 and 2015. Kahnle entered Monday having struck out 55 batters and walked seven in 32 2/3 innings with a 2.20 ERA.

“It would be easy to slot Kahnle into the ninth inning if we wanted to,” manager Rick Renteria said. “As the game progresses we might have to match up. We’ll see how it goes as we move forward.

“Great opportunity. Absolutely. There’s no apprehension on our part to use him in that role. None whatsoever.”

But if Kahnle’s promoted, the White Sox would then be in need of a setup man. The White Sox also are trying to manage the right-hander’s workload

Zack Burdi, the team’s 2016 first-rounder, is as good of an option as any within the organization to step up and fill the void. But, his promotion would come with a learning curve.

Either way it would seem the White Sox could have some trying times ahead.

“(In 2014) we had to try and shuffle the deck and go with Belisario,” Cooper said. “I thought he was doing a good job where he was in the eighth and it goes to show you in the ninth he couldn’t handle it.

“As far as the future goes, I don’t know what people are thinking about who’s in the cards for us, who’s here or not. But we’re trying to win games.” 

Charlie Tilson plays in Detroit for first time since getting injured in his MLB debut

Charlie Tilson plays in Detroit for first time since getting injured in his MLB debut

For over two years, Charlie Tilson was starting to look like his own version of "Moonlight" Graham, the player made famous in the movie "Field of Dreams" because he played in one major league game and never got to bat.

The White Sox traded for Tilson just before the trade deadline passed in 2016. Two days later he made his big league debut with the White Sox in Detroit. He got a single in his first at-bat, but left the game with an injury and missed the rest of the season. Tilson also missed all of the 2017 season and his MLB future was starting to come into question.

Back healthy, Tilson started this season in Triple-A Charlotte and hit .248 in 39 games when he got called up to replace Leury Garcia, who was placed on the disabled list. On Thursday, Tilson returned to a big league field for the first time in more than 20 months. He went 0-for-3 in a loss to Baltimore.

Friday marked a return to the site of Tilson's big league debut and the injury that made it such a brief stint. Tilson has now played three big league games, over the course of nearly 21 months, and two of them have been in Detroit.

Tilson went 1-for-4, meaning both his hits are in Comerica Park. The White Sox lost 5-4 after giving up three runs in the bottom of the eighth.

The White Sox sent down Carson Fulmer, so why isn't Lucas Giolito receiving the same treatment?

The White Sox sent down Carson Fulmer, so why isn't Lucas Giolito receiving the same treatment?

Lucas Giolito is having a rough go of things in his second year with the White Sox.

He came into the season with some pretty high expectations after posting a 2.38 ERA in seven starts at the end of the 2017 campaign and then dominating during spring training. But he’s done anything but dominate since this season started, and after one of his worst outings in Thursday’s 9-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles, he’s got a 7.53 ERA in 10 starts in 2018.

Giolito stuck around for only four outs Thursday, but he allowed the Orioles to do plenty of damage, giving up seven runs on six hits — two of which were back-to-back home runs to start the second inning — and three walks. He leads the American League with his 37 walks.

“I take what I do very seriously. I work as hard as I can at it,” Giolito said. “So when I experience failure like this, it’s kind of hard to deal with. All I can do is come back tomorrow, keep working on things and hopefully have a better one.”

All of Giolito’s struggles have fans wondering why the White Sox haven’t sent him down to Triple-A to work on his craft.

“I don’t foresee that at this particular time,” Rick Renteria said when asked if Giolito could be sent to Triple-A. “I think he’s just a young man who’s got to continue to minimize the emotional aspect of crossing from preparation into the game and staying focused, relaxed and hammer the zone with strikes. And truthfully it’s just first-pitch strike and get after the next one.”

The White Sox have already sent one young pitcher down in Carson Fulmer, who was having a nightmarish time at the big league level. Fulmer’s results were worse than Giolito’s on a regular basis. He got sent down after posting an 8.07 ERA in nine outings.

But hasn’t Giolito suffered through command issues enough to warrant some time away from the major league limelight? According to his manager, Giolito’s situation is vastly different than Fulmer’s.

“I don’t see them anywhere near each other,” Renteria said. “They’re two different competitors in terms of the outcomes that they’ve had. Lucas has at least had situations in which he might have struggled early and been able to gain some confidence through the middle rounds of his start and continue to propel himself to finish some ballgames, give us six or seven innings at times. So it’s two different guys.

“With Gio, I expect that we would have a nice clean start from the beginning, but when he doesn’t I still feel like if he gets through it he’ll settle down and continue to hammer away at what he needs to do in order to get deeper into a ballgame, and that was a little different with Carson. With Carson it was right from the get-go he was struggling, and he had a difficult time extending his outings after the third or fourth because it just kept getting too deep into his pitch count and not really hammering the strike zone as much.”

Renteria is not wrong. Giolito has had a knack to take a rough beginning to a start and turn it into five or six innings. Notably, he gave up a couple first-inning runs and walked seven hitters and still got the win against the Cubs a week and a half ago. And while his first-inning ERA is 10.80 and his second-inning ERA is 12.54, he’s pitched into at least the sixth inning in seven of his 10 starts.

Renteria’s point is that Giolito is learning how to shake off early damage and achieving the goal, most times out, of eating up innings and keeping his team in the game. Those are a couple valuable qualities to develop for a young pitcher. But are those the lone qualities that determine that Giolito is suited to continue his learning process at the major league level? His command remains a glaring problem, and both he and Renteria admitted that his problems are more mental than physical.

“The one thing everyone has to understand is we have to go beyond the physical and attack a little bit more of the mental and emotional and try to connect and slow that down,” Renteria said. “Those aspects are the ones that ultimately, at times, deal in the derailment of the physical action. So if we can kind of calm that down a little bit.

“He’s very focused. Giolito is high intensity. Nice kid but high-intensity young man when he gets on the mound. You might not believe it. He’s going 100 mph. So I think it goes to more just trusting himself, trusting the process, taking it truthfully one pitch at a time.”

Well, if a demotion to the minors isn’t likely, what about moving Giolito to the bullpen? Carlos Rodon and Chris Sale dipped their toes in bullpen waters before moving to the rotation. Could a reversal of that strategy help Giolito?

Well, the current state of the White Sox starting rotation — Fulmer in the minors, Miguel Gonzalez on the 60-day DL and pitchers like James Shields, Hector Santiago and Dylan Covey, who aren’t exactly long-term pieces, getting a lot of starts — doesn’t really allow for another piece to be removed.

“I know they have done it with Rodon and Sale,” Renteria said. “The difference is we don’t have the makeup of the starting rotation that those clubs had in order to put those guys in the ‘pen. We are in a different situation right now. Moving forward, is that something we can possibly do? Absolutely. It has been done with very good success.

“Right now we are in truly discovery mode and adjustment mode and adapting and trying to do everything we can to get these guys to develop their skill sets to be very usable and effective at the major league level and we are doing it to the best of our ability.”

There could be promise in the fact that Giolito has turned a season around as recently as last year. Before he was impressing on the South Side in August and September, he was struggling at Triple-A Charlotte. Even after he ironed things out, things had gotten off to a rocky enough start that he owned a 4.48 ERA and 10 losses when he was called up to the bigs.

It doesn’t seem Giolito will be going back to Charlotte, unless things continue to go in a dramatically poor direction. Right now, these are just more of the growing pains during this rebuilding process. “The hardest part of the rebuild” doesn’t just means wins and losses. It means watching some players struggle through speed bumps as they continue to develop into what the White Sox hope they’ll be when this team is ready to compete.