White Sox

Erik Johnson improves to 3-0 as White Sox sweep doubleheader

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Erik Johnson improves to 3-0 as White Sox sweep doubleheader

DETROIT -- Erik Johnson’s second round of auditions continues to go well.

The young White Sox pitcher tied a career-high with nine strikeouts on Monday night in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers. Johnson picked up his third victory in four starts as the White Sox completed a sweep of the split-doubleheader with a 3-2 win over the Tigers at Comerica Park.

Johnson allowed two runs in six innings and Jose Abreu doubled in a run and Gordon Beckham homered. Nate Jones and David Robertson combined for four strikeouts in three scoreless innings.

“(Johnson) threw great,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think even when they got some guys on he was able to show some command. We got him some early runs and he was able to make it hold up.”

[MORE: Jeff Samardzija's one-hitter paces White Sox to win over Tigers]

Johnson has done nothing in September to hurt his chances for the 2016 White Sox rotation. With Jeff Samardzija headed for free agency and the White Sox considering anything to upgrade their roster, Johnson could be in line for one of possibly two spots in the 2016 rotation.

Though he needed 114 pitches to complete six innings, Johnson was in control early and worked around some trouble in the middle before a strong finish. Johnson used a slider/fastball combination early as he struck out three, including Miguel Cabrera, and retired the first six batters he faced.

“It was hard, away early,” Johnson said. “We tried to go in for effect to a lot of their hitters, and then later in the game you started doubling up on sliders and getting away from sequences we used earlier in the game.

“I felt good. It was a good first inning to put the right foot forward, and I thought I was very aggressive in the zone with fastball, slider, change. I gave up a few hits. Sometimes the aggressiveness, you’re going to run into some hits here and there.”

The International League pitcher of the year left a fastball over the middle to Alex Avila and he homered to start the third inning. Johnson gave up two more singles and a sac fly to Ian Kinsler as Detroit rallied to within 3-2. But catcher Rob Brantly nailed Rajai Davis stealing second to end the inning with Miguel Cabrera at the plate.

[RELATED: David Robertson rebounds from rough week with sharp performance vs. Tigers]

Johnson then loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning but he struck out Josh Wilson on a 2-2 fastball above the letters to strand the trio.

Johnson retired seven of the last eight he faced, including four strikeouts.

He allowed five hits and walked two.

“Those two middle innings where they were long, it’s tough because you have to find the middle ground to where you’re aggressive in the zone, but you can put guys away early, to the point they’re not fouling off pitches and you’re not going into deep counts,” Johnson said. “Sometimes that’s where it leads to bigger innings or more pitches per inning. Sometimes in the middle you’ve just got to grind things out and you fall back into a nice rhythm.”

Trayce Thompson tripled to start the second inning and scored on Avisail Garcia’s sac fly against Randy Wolf. Beckham homered later in the second to give the White Sox a 2-0 lead. Tyler Saladino tripled with two outs in the third and Abreu doubled him in as the White Sox took a three-run lead.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

Johnson and his bullpen did the rest.

It was another impressive outing for Johnson late in an outstanding season as he continues to rebound from a poor 2014 campaign. Johnson had a similar season in 2013 that helped him win a job in the 2014 rotation but he only lasted five starts before he was demoted to Triple-A Charlotte.

“He’s aggressive in the zone and that’s been the biggest thing of coming back up here,” Ventura said. “He’s aggressive, coming after you and I think he has to pitch that way. It’s good to see.”

The future is now: Michael Kopech to make White Sox debut Tuesday

The future is now: Michael Kopech to make White Sox debut Tuesday

The day White Sox fans have been waiting for is finally here.

In another benchmark moment on the timeline of this rebuilding process, top-ranked pitching prospect Michael Kopech will make his major league debut Tuesday night in a game against the Minnesota Twins at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Kopech, acquired in the rebuild-jumpstarting trade that sent Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox, has been the subject of much attention at Triple-A Charlotte this season. After he dominated at the Double-A level in his first season in the White Sox organization, striking out 155 batters in his 22 starts, he’s had an up-and-down 2018 campaign. But boy has he been electric of late.

He was dominant in his first five starts of the season, with a 2.86 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 27 innings of work. But over a two-month stretch from early May to early July, he had a 5.69 ERA with 47 walks over 12 starts. But Kopech got things back on track in a big way. He’s allowed just nine earned runs and struck out 59 batters compared to just four walks in his last 44 innings over seven starts. He posted a 3.70 ERA on the season at Charlotte.

Kopech’s long been advertised as a flamethrower with blow-em-away stuff, and that has obviously grabbed the imaginations of White Sox fans dreaming of him anchoring the rotation of the future. Kopech’s the highest-profile of the team’s wealth of starting-pitching prospects that includes Dylan Cease, Dane Dunning and Alec Hansen, among others.

But Kopech’s arrival — as well as that of outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who could also be up before season’s end — will bring the most excitement. The 22-year-old is ranked as the No. 13 prospect in the game by MLB Pipeline.

It’s a strong indication that Hahn’s rebuilding effort is moving along as planned, even if the big league squad is struggling in the win-loss department. Kopech’s promotion is changing the storyline surrounding this team from waiting for the youth movement to watching it in action.

Can Nicky Delmonico be this year’s Nicky Delmonico for White Sox?

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USA TODAY

Can Nicky Delmonico be this year’s Nicky Delmonico for White Sox?

Who will be this year’s Nicky Delmonico?

It’s kind of a strange question, considering Delmonico is always himself. But it’s a question that gets at this topic: Who will be the late-season surprise that makes 2020 lineup projectors pause and puts on enough of a show to start the conversation about their place in the White Sox long-term plans?

To this point, that guy has been Daniel Palka. The slugger with a flair for the dramatic hasn’t excelled in every facet of the game, but his power displays, often in clutch moments, have earned him a loyal fan base in this rebuilding season. Considering he wasn’t even a member of the organization when the campaign began, it doesn’t really get more surprising than that.

Meanwhile, Delmonico hasn’t matched the impressive numbers he was able to put up at the close of last season, when he came out of nowhere — as in, not high on the list of the organization’s top prospects — to slash .262/.373/.482 with nine homers and 23 RBIs in just 43 games.

A hand injury that knocked him out for months, the dip in his numbers — .229/.322/.388 heading into Sunday’s game against the Kansas City Royals — and the ever-increasing amount of depth among the White Sox outfield prospects has perhaps taken Delmonico out of that conversation about the future.

But with home runs on back-to-back nights and a total of six RBIs in the last two games, perhaps Delmonico can play a similar role to the one he played last season, coming out of nowhere and staking his claim to future consideration. A strong finish might keep his name in the mix as the outfield of the future crowds with the likes of Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Micker Adolfo, Luis Alexander Basabe, Luis Gonzalez, Alex Call and Joel Booker.

“It would be huge just to end the year on a good note,” Delmonico said Sunday. “But all I’m trying to do is control what I can control and go out there and give it everything I have.”

Delmonico obviously has experience in finishing the season strong. His production at the big league level at the end of last season came after a slow stretch in the middle of the summer, when he posted only a .216 batting average in the month of July while playing at Triple-A Charlotte.

This season, Delmonico’s numbers haven’t been much better in the second half than they were during a slow start ahead of the hand injury. Since the All-Star break, Delmonico is slashing .236/.304/.528 but with 11 extra-base hits including a quartet of homers. He said he can use the experience of turning things around last summer to close this season strong.

“When I was in Charlotte, I kind of hit a rough July and then kind of picked it up. And then when I was here, I kind of picked it up again and learned from a lot of my teammates, a lot of other guys,” he said. “I’m trying to pick up that same thing, that same mentality of where I was last year and just trying to go out and compete, learn and see what happens.”

Manager Rick Renteria, talking amid Delmonico’s two recent long balls, has liked what he’s seen.

“He’s been swinging the bat pretty good,” Renteria said Saturday. “I think he’s a little more fluid. (Friday), he put a good swing on that pitch that he was able to drive out of the ballpark. He’s getting more and more comfortable. Hopefully, it continues. We’ve got (however many) more days of the regular season left. All of these guys, at this point, you hope that they turn the corner and they start to improve on certain things that they’ve been working on throughout the course of the season.”

While the wave of prospects that is rolling its way toward the South Side figures to hold the bulk of the outfield of the future, of the time when rebuilding mode transforms into contention mode, there are unique opportunities for the guys currently playing at the major league level. Though that’s not to say Delmonico is currently without competition: Palka has impressed with his power, Leury Garcia has earned playing time with a solid bat, Adam Engel has been tremendous defensively, and Avisail Garcia was an All Star a season ago.

“I can learn from them, it’s awesome,” Delmonico said of his fellow big league outfielders. “I can learn from Adam, Avi, Leury, all these guys that are really good out there. As well as Palka, we go out there every day for early work. Just kind of learn from them. I try to motivate them, they motivate me and we continue to go.”

The opportunity is still there for someone like Delmonico, who at only 26 could still work his way into — or back into — those 2020 lineup projections.