White Sox

Flowers a not-so-invisible hand pushing Chris Sale’s success

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Flowers a not-so-invisible hand pushing Chris Sale’s success

ST. LOUIS — As Chris Sale bulldozed his way to tying a major league record over his last eight starts, there’s something he hasn’t done much, if at all.

Shake off catcher Tyler Flowers.

Sale and Flowers have as good a working pitcher-catcher relationship as you’ll find in baseball. Whatever Flowers calls, Sale throws. If an adjustment needs to be made during a game, Flowers will make it and Sale will trust it.

That happened Tuesday night when Sale didn’t have good command of the inner third of the plate. Flowers made the adjustment and called for more two-seamer fastballs away to a righty-heavy lineup and mixed in more sliders than usual — Sale threw 24 percent of the time, up about eight percent from his season average.

The result: Eight innings of one-run ball with 12 strikeouts — all swinging — giving him eight consecutive games with double-digit strikeouts to tie Pedro Martinez’s major league record set in 1999.

“We both trust each other entirely,” Flowers, who's caught all 15 of Sale's starts this season, said. “It just allows him to stay focused on whatever pitch, executing that and not worrying about the preparation as far as pitch sequences and those kind of things. He leaves that in my hands, and I kind of enjoy that aspect of the preparation to help him have success and give us a chance to win.”

As Sale said after a start earlier last month: “Just follow Flow, whatever he’s got, that’s what I’m throwing.”

[RELATED: White Sox return Dan Jennings to bullpen mix]

The Sale-Flowers relationship is a subtle aspect to the White Sox ace’s success over the last few seasons. The pair worked together during Sale’s brief stint in Triple-A in 2010 and have formed the White Sox battery 74 times, teaming up to limit hitters to a .212 batting average and .591 OPS. In 446 2/3 innings with Flowers behind the plate, Sale has 538 strikeouts.

Those on-the-fly adjustments Flowers is able to make on an inning-by-inning, batter-by-batter, pitch-by-pitch basis have helped keep Sale effective even if he doesn’t have his best stuff or command.

“He’s caught him enough and he can tell if one pitch isn’t as sharp as another,” manager Robin Ventura said. “There is trust when he puts down down different fingers that there is a reason for that. They get along well. They’re in sync, he doesn’t spend much time shaking off and standing out there.”

Ventura said Sale’s preferred rhythm is similar to the one former White Sox starter Mark Buehrle is known for — get the ball, get on the mound and throw it quickly. Having a strong trust in Flowers to call the right pitch in the right location helps Sale find that rhythm and not overthink things.

[MORE: More Rodon could mean more rest for Chris Sale]

The results, especially in 2015, have been staggering. If Sale makes 17 more starts at his current pace he’ll finish the season with 301 strikeouts, a total which hasn’t been reached by a pitcher since Randy Johnson in 2002. And if Sale racks up 10 or more strikeouts in his next start — which will be either Sunday or Monday next week — he’ll set a major league single season record for most consecutive starts with double digit strikeouts.

The relationship between pitcher and catcher didn’t develop immediately, but it did develop quickly. And it’s become an important part of Sale’s dominance.

“It’s easier for pitchers to trust in a guy when they have success, and it’s easier for me to have success with him when he can execute, and we have some weapons to work with,” Flowers said. “So it kind of goes hand-in-hand where he gave me a shot to run the game, to run an inning, to run the next inning with some success and it just kind of snowballed into where we’re at today.”

Podcast: Dylan Cease raves about the White Sox farm system

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AP

Podcast: Dylan Cease raves about the White Sox farm system

Coming to you from Washington DC, we speak with Dylan Cease who competed in the MLB Futures Game along with his Birmingham Barons teammate Luis Basabe. 

Cease talks about the White Sox loaded farm system, what players have impressed him the most, where he gets his composure on the mound and more. 

Check out the entire podcast here:

Fernando Tatis Jr. is the prospect who got away: White Sox fans, read this at your own risk

Fernando Tatis Jr. is the prospect who got away: White Sox fans, read this at your own risk

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Fernando Tatis, Jr. is one of the brightest future stars in the game. MLB Pipeline ranks him as the No. 3 prospect in all of baseball, one spot behind Eloy Jimenez.

He’s a five-tool shortstop slashing .289/.359/.509 at Double-A San Antonio with 15 home runs, 42 RBIs and 15 stolen bases in 85 games. He’s bilingual, charismatic, the kind of guy who could be a face of a franchise.

And two years ago, he was property of the White Sox.

That was until they traded Tatis, who was only 17 at the time, to the Padres for James Shields. Tatis had yet to play a single game in the White Sox farm system, so it was tough to predict his future. However, speaking with Tatis before he competed in the MLB Futures Game on Sunday, the trade was definitely a shock to him.

“I was surprised. It was weird. For a kid that young to get traded, I had never heard of it. When they told me that, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’” Tatis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago.

No front office is going to bat 1.000, and when it comes to Tatis, this is a trade the White Sox would love to have back.

But first, more perspective.

In June of 2016, six months before the White Sox started their rebuild, they were 29-26, a game and a half out of first place. With Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and a healthy Carlos Rodon anchoring their rotation, they felt that with the addition of Shields, they could compete for the division.

Unfortunately, perception didn’t meet reality. Shields struggled on the mound with the White Sox in 2016 and 2017. His numbers have improved considerably, and he could return the White Sox another prospect if he’s dealt before the trade deadline. However, it’s unlikely they’ll receive a player with the potential that Tatis has right now.

“(The trade) was about getting a good starter so they could get to the playoffs. I understood. I know this game is a business,” Tatis said.

Before the trade occurred, Tatis looked into his future and saw a day when he’d be the White Sox starting shortstop.

“Yeah, that was my goal when (White Sox director of international scouting) Marco Paddy signed me,” Tatis said. “We talked about it when I started and that was the goal.”

His goal now is to make it to the major leagues with the Padres.

“I’m pretty close. I want to keep working. When they decide to call me up, I’ll be ready.”

As for his former team, he’s impressed with the talent the White Sox have assembled.

“They’re building something special. They have really good prospects. I wish the best for them.”

You can’t help but wonder what the rebuild would look like if Tatis was along for the ride. He’s the one who got away.