White Sox

'Improved' Juan Minaya adds split-fingered fastball to repertoire

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USA TODAY

'Improved' Juan Minaya adds split-fingered fastball to repertoire

The White Sox wanted Juan Minaya to add another pitch when he casually mentioned a few weeks back he throws a split-fingered fastball.

The hope is to another pitch could help the rookie reliever improve against left-handed hitters. Minaya -- who has converted seven of eight saves with 49 strikeouts and a 4.75 ERA in 41 2/3 innings -- threw a split-finger fastball when he pitched in the Houston Astros farm system. But Minaya said the Astros thought he threw it too hard and discouraged its use. The White Sox are more than happy to have Minaya be able to attack another quadrant.

“The (changeup/split-fingered fastball) has been a nice addition,” pitching coach Don Cooper said. “We’re also trying to get him better and more consistent with his breaking stuff.

“Minaya has probably been one of the most improved guys, from the moment we picked him up from Houston, getting his delivery better. He’s throwing more strikes than he ever has with all of his pitches and the delivery enables that.”

Minaya, 27, hasn’t been scored upon in his last five appearances, though Avisail Garcia bailed him out with an assist on a wild game-ending play on Friday night.

Part of that success has come from the addition of the split-fingered fastball, which Minaya has thrown 16 times this month. Before September, Minaya had thrown the pitch only 11 times at the big-league level.

[MORE: Where does Jose Abreu fit in long-term plans?]

Minaya already throws a four-seam fastball, curve and a slider. But the split gives him a secondary pitch for lefties, who have an .829 OPS against Minaya this season.

“You can see he has confidence in it because he’s shaking to it a lot, which I love,” said catcher Kevan Smith. “He needed to throw that off his fastball. He has more than above average breaking stuff, but he broke it out a few weeks ago and we were like, ‘You’ve been holding out on us all season with that.’ That’s just going to bring more value to him, make more effective. A little more confident and successful.”

With the team’s entire original bullpen cast either traded or injured, Minaya has temporarily been thrust into the closer’s role. The mild-mannered righty has handled the ninth as well as could be expected and has shown the White Sox he has the stuff to potentially help out in the bullpen moving forward. Minaya would like to improve his fastball command but is pleased with how he’s handled a tricky situation. He’s also glad to have the White Sox supporting him throwing the split-fingered fastball.

“The other day I was talking with Coop and he said you need to get another pitch for lefties,” Minaya said. “I said I can throw the split, but I throw it hard. He said OK and I started throwing.

“The ninth inning is a tough inning, but you have to go out and compete.”

What will Steve Cishek's role be with White Sox? 'Get three outs, any inning'

What will Steve Cishek's role be with White Sox? 'Get three outs, any inning'

It's safe to say the White Sox wanted to add Steve Cishek to their bullpen.

"According to my agent, within five minutes after the World Series, the White Sox called and expressed some interest," Cishek said Wednesday. "So when you get a call that soon, you know the team is up to something. Then of course with what they did this offseason, it made signing here very intriguing."

So what will Cishek's role be at the back end of that bullpen? For the newest member of the South Side relief corps, it's really not that difficult.

"I would assume it would be the same as it was with the Cubs," he said. "Get three outs, any inning."

Cishek is aboard to bolster that back end, one that heads into 2020 with some concrete names but some mystery, as well. Alex Colome will be the team's closer after racking up 126 saves over the past four seasons, and Aaron Bummer figures to be a frequent presence in the eighth inning of games after posting a 2.13 ERA last season.

Cishek was extraordinarily reliable for Joe Maddon and the Cubs in his two seasons on the North Side, with a 2.55 ERA in a whopping 150 appearances, many of them coming in high-leverage situations.

While Evan Marshall and Jimmy Cordero will start the season as options for Rick Renteria in high-leverage situations, too, that pair doesn't have quite the track record of Cishek. With Rick Hahn quick to remind about the volatility of relief pitching from one year to the next, adding a dependable arm in Cishek is an important complement to what the White Sox already had in the 'pen.

"I am fortunate enough now that we have guys that have all been at the back end of a ballgame and have had success in that particular role," Renteria said Wednesday. "I've got flexibility now and strength and hopefully having guys being able to take advantage of high-leverage situations. I use a guy two, three, four days (in a row), it's nice to have another guy I can probably slot in there to be able to do things like that. I have a little bit more flexibility right now."

Cishek's contributions on the pitcher's mound will obviously be of great import, but like every other veteran addition the White Sox have made this winter, he's also expected to do plenty in the clubhouse. While the Cubs teams he was a part of played in just one postseason game the past two seasons, he's no stranger to dealing with big expectations. The White Sox have those now after years of rebuilding, and Cishek should be able to help guide the players new to such an environment.

"With expectations, as long as we stay together as a team we can accomplish a lot," Cishek said. "A lot of the guys we've brought in have been through the fire. As a matter of fact, most of the guys have played in the playoffs the last four or five seasons even. So they have the playoff experience. They know what it takes to win and get to that level, and I think that's going to bode well for these young guys to see how they work, how us older veteran guys get after it and hopefully follow suit.

"I think we can teach these guys how to win."

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White Sox Talk Podcast: The person making the boldest White Sox predictions

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: The person making the boldest White Sox predictions

Chuck Garfien is joined by the man who predicted a White Sox division title for the 2020 season before the Sox made any moves, Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com. Castrovince also discusses his other bold White Sox predictions and why he's making them.

(2:48) - Why Castrovince selected the Sox to win the AL central

(7:03) - Why Castrovine selected Rick Renteria as AL Manager of the Year

(9:56) - Yoan Moncada will challenge Mike Trout for AL MVP

(12:43) - Will Luis Robert win Rookie of the Year

(13:54) - Why the Padres missed and the White Sox won last winter on Manny Machado

(18:57) - Was the Astro punishment enough?

(23:30) - For the love of Bruce Springsteen

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below: