White Sox

Frame job: Tyler Flowers aids pitchers in White Sox win over Cubs

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Frame job: Tyler Flowers aids pitchers in White Sox win over Cubs

Cubs hitters looked back in anger three different times on Friday afternoon.

Aside from a 1-0 White Sox victory over the Cubs, that was one of the true indicators it was a “good day” for Tyler Flowers.

Not only do White Sox pitchers continue to vouch for his blocking skills, his pitch framing abilities played a significant role as the White Sox won for their eighth time in 10 games.

Utilizing the technique he labored over in the offseason, Flowers — who entered Friday sixth among big league catchers in pitch framing, up from 14th in 2014 — earned strike calls on 12 borderline pitches for White Sox pitchers as they combined for a dozen strikeouts.

[MORE: White Sox much-maligned defense comes through to beat Cubs]

“He does an exceptional job back there,” said White Sox closer David Robertson, who struck out two in a 1-2-3 ninth to capture his 19th save. “He blocked a lot of curveballs I threw today. He knew they were coming in the dirt and I was able to put them where I wanted to do and he was able to stop them. He was like a wall back there.”

While his main job with Robertson was to block pitches against Jorge Soler, Flowers’ framing was critical during a Dexter Fowler at-bat in the eighth inning.

With Zach Duke on the mound, the tying man on first and the White Sox ahead by a run, Flowers called for a curveball and had his glove hovering just above the ground.

Duke hit his target and even though the pitch was well below the zone, plate ump Dan Bellino wrung up Fowler much to the leadoff man’s dismay.

According to brooksbaseball.net, Flowers earned five low strikes that were visibly out of the strikezone. Five of the team’s 12 strikeouts also came via called third strikes.

“You always want to be (low), but that was borderline,” Flowers said. “That’s kind of where you live though. Being a pitcher, the lower you can throw it the better — to a point. I mean you can’t bounce it in there 3-2, you have to get him to swing.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!

The framing also worked to Carlos Rodon’s benefit on a day in which the rookie was effectively wild. Rodon threw strikes on 57 of 104 pitches but it would have been less had he not received several wide and low ones thanks to his catcher.

One of the more notable encounters came in the fifth inning, when Starlin Castro believed he drew a walk on a 3-1 pitch only for Bellino to call a strike inside. Castro fouled off a 3-2 offering before Rodon hit thevery outside edge with a 94-mph fastball for the third strike.

An inning earlier, Rodon, who struck out six and walked six over six scoreless innings, got out of a trouble spot with Flowers’ help. With runners on first and second off with a 3-2 pitch that resulted in a strikeout of Chris Denorfia, Flowers fired to third in time to throw out Kris Bryant for an inning-ending double play.

“Tyler defensively was great,” Rodon said. “Big throw out to third there for that strike-‘em out, throw-‘em, out. Whatever he threw down, I was going to throw it. He's always good, always great.”

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

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USA TODAY

James Shields is having a stellar May and making comeback wins possible for the White Sox

If you haven’t checked in with what James Shields is doing in a while, your opinion of the veteran pitcher’s performance might need some updating.

Shields didn’t exactly win the confidence of White Sox fans during his first two seasons on the South Side. After arriving in a midseason trade with the San Diego Padres in 2016, he posted a 6.77 ERA in 22 starts, during which he allowed 31 home runs. He followed that up with a 5.23 ERA and 27 home runs allowed in 2017.

And the 2018 season didn’t start out great, either, with a 6.17 ERA over his first five outings.

But the month of May has brought a dramatic turn in the vet’s production. In five May starts, he’s got a 3.27 ERA in five starts, all of which have seen him go at least six innings (he’s got six straight outings of at least six innings, dating back to his last start in April).

And his two most recent starts have probably been his two best ones of the season. After allowing just one run on three hits in 7.1 innings last Thursday against the Texas Rangers, he gave up just two runs on five hits Tuesday night against the Baltimore Orioles.

The White Sox, by the way, won both of those games in comeback fashion. They scored four runs in the eighth against Texas and three in the eighth against Baltimore for a pair of “Ricky’s boys don’t quit” victories made possible by Shields’ great work on the mound.

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said after Tuesday’s game. “It’s our job as starters to keep us in the game as long as we possibly can, no matter how we are hitting in a game. At the end of the game, you can always score one or two runs and possibly win a ballgame like we did tonight.”

The White Sox offense was indeed having trouble much of Tuesday’s game, kept off the scoreboard by Orioles starter Kevin Gausman. Particularly upsetting for White Sox Twitter was the sixth inning, when the South Siders put two runners in scoring position with nobody out and then struck out three straight times to end the inning.

But Shields went out and pitched a shut-down seventh, keeping the score at 2-0. Bruce Rondon did much the same thing in the eighth, and the offense finally sparked to life in the bottom of the inning when coincidentally presented with a similar situation to the one in the sixth. This time, though, the inning stayed alive and resulted in scoring, with Welington Castillo, Yoan Moncada and Yolmer Sanchez driving in the three runs.

“I’m out there doing my job,” Shields said. “My job is to try to keep us in the game. And we had some good starters against us that have been throwing well. If I can keep them close, we are going to get some wins and get some wins throughout the rest of the year like that. That’s the name of the game.”

Shields’ value in this rebuilding effort has been discussed often. His veteran presence is of great value in the clubhouse, particularly when it comes to mentoring young pitchers like Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, among others. Shields can act as an example of how to go about one’s business regardless of the outcomes of his starts. But when he can lead by example with strong outings, that’s even more valuable.

“I’m trying to eat as many innings as possible,” he said. “We kind of gave our bullpen — we taxed them a little bit the first month of the season. We are kind of getting back on track. Our goal as a starting staff is to go as deep as possible, and in order to do that, you’ve got to throw strikes and get ahead of hitters.

“Not too many playoff teams, a starting staff goes five and dive every single game. My whole career I’ve always wanted to go as deep as possible. I wanted to take the ball all the way to the end of the game. And we’ve done a pretty good job of it of late.”

It’s a long time between now and the trade deadline, and consistency has at times escaped even the brightest spots on this rebuilding White Sox roster. But Shields has strung together a nice bunch of starts here of late, and if that kind of performance can continue, the White Sox front office might find that it has a potential trade piece on its hands. That, too, is of value to this rebuild.

Until that possibility occurs, though, the team will take more solid outings that give these young players an opportunity to learn how to come back and learn how to win.

Ozzie Guillen offers his solution to PED use in baseball

Ozzie Guillen offers his solution to PED use in baseball

Ozzie Guillen is not one to shy away from having a strong opinion about something.

On NBC Sports Chicago’s Baseball Night in Chicago show on Tuesday, Guillen gave his view on how Major League Baseball can stop the usage of performance-enhancing drugs.

“Major League Baseball, you want to cut this thing down?” Guillen said on the show. “You cancel the contract to this kid. Then you’re going to see that. You get caught one time, you’re banned from baseball, then you’re going to stop with that. Because if you’re going to make $200 million and lose $11 million? I’m going to do it.”

Guillen is going off the idea that a player who used PEDs to get a big contract only loses part of it when he eventually gets caught and suspended. Canceling the rest of a contract takes away some of the financial incentive to use PEDs.

“If you get caught when you are young and you try to survive in the game, well, I don’t agree with them, but you can survive in this game that way,” Guillen said. “You know how hard it is right now. How Major League Baseball is on the top of this thing, day in and day out. They’re not going to play around with this thing.”

Marlon Byrd, who was twice suspended for PED use, was also on the show and talked about his PED suspensions.