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.”

Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

Tim Anderson celebrated his birthday in style

Tim Anderson turned 24 on Saturday and celebrated the occasion with a bang.

Anderson smashed a three-run home run in the first inning against the A's. It was actually his first swing on his birthday. Anderson took the first two pitches before launching the 1-1 pitch over the right field fence.

That home run, Anderson's 13th of the year, gave the White Sox a 5-0 lead. Things took an ugly turn later in the game with Oakland winning 7-6. Dylan Covey left in the fifth with a hip injury, which manager Rick Renteria said will be evaluated tomorrow to determine the severity of the injury.

Anderson finished 2-for-4 on his birthday. He later added a single, a stolen base and a run in the sixth inning.

Anderon's power surge this year has him on pace to blow past his 17 homers from a year ago. He is four shy of last year's total and has done so in just under half as many plate appearances.

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

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USA TODAY

It's only one start, but that's the Lucas Giolito that White Sox fans expected to see this season

The preseason expectations and the results have been drastically different for Lucas Giolito.

Expected to be the best pitcher on the White Sox starting staff, Giolito hasn’t come too close to that title, instead heading into Friday’s doubleheader with the most earned runs allowed of any pitcher in baseball. His walk total has been among the highest in the game all year long, too. And the calls from social media to send him down to Triple-A haven’t been at all infrequent.

But Friday, White Sox fans got a glimpse at what they expected, a look at the guy who earned so much hype with a strong September last season and a dominant spring training.

It wasn’t a performance that would make any reasonable baseball person’s jaw drop. But it was the best Giolito has looked this season. He still allowed four runs on seven hits — as mentioned, not a Cy Young type outing — but he struck out a season-high eight batters. Prior to giving up the back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning that brought an end to his evening, he’d surrendered just two runs.

Most importantly he walked just two guys and didn’t seem to struggle with his command at all. That’s a big deal for a pitcher who had 45 walks to his name prior to Friday.

“You know it was a tough eighth inning, but throughout the whole game, I felt in sync,” Giolito said. “(Catcher Omar Narvaez) and I were working really well, finally commanding the fastball the way I should. Definitely the best I felt out there this year, for sure. Velocity was up a tick. Just felt right, felt in sync. Just competed from there.”

Confidence has never left Giolito throughout the poor results, and he’s talked after every start about getting back on the horse and giving it another try. Consistently working in between starts, things finally seemed to click Friday night.

“It all worked today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “(Pitching coach Don Cooper) says that every bullpen has gotten better, from the beginning to this point. He sees progress. The velocity that he showed today was something that Coop was seeing in his work. You can see that his delivery is continuing to improve. He was trusting himself, really attacking the strike zone, trusted his breaking ball today when he need to and just tried to command as much as he could. Did a nice job.”

Giolito went through this kind of thing last year, when he started off poorly at Triple-A Charlotte with a 5.40 ERA through his first 16 starts. But then things got better, with Giolito posting a 2.78 ERA over his final eight starts with the Knights before getting called up to the big leagues.

This was just one start, of course, but perhaps he can follow a similar formula this year, too, going from a rough beginning to figuring things out.

“I’m not trying to tinker or think about mechanics anymore,” he said. “It’s about flow, getting out there and making pitches. We were able to do that for the most part.

“I’ll watch video and see certain things, and I have little cues here and there. But I’m not going to go and overanalyze things and nitpick at certain stuff anymore. It’s about going there and having fun and competing.”

Maybe that’s the secret. Or maybe this is simply a brief flash of brilliance in the middle of a tough first full season in the bigs.

Whatever it was, it was the best we’ve seen of Giolito during the 2018 campaign. And it was far more like what was expected back before that campaign got going.