White Sox

Jackson plays punch out; Sox win home opener

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Jackson plays punch out; Sox win home opener

Thursday, April 7, 2011
Posted: 3:43 p.m. Updated: 5:45 p.m.

By Brett Ballantini
CSNChicago.com

CHICAGO After Brent Lillibridge gloved a warning-track fly ball by potential tying run Johnny Damon to end the eighth, Edwin Jacksons emphatic fist-pump on the mound put the finishing touches on an Opening Day gem, a game so dominant its immediately mentioned in the same breath as his 149-pitch no-hitter vs. these same Tampa Rays a summer ago.

Baseball is a game of inches, one pitch can ruin a whole game, Jackson said. When Damon hit that ball, initially I did think it was gone. It was a great feeling to see Lillibridge at the fence catching it for a last out. It was definitely exciting. Off the bat, I thought it was a home run.

Jackson punched out a career-high 13 batterswhich set a White Sox home opener recordin a 5-1 trampling of Tampa, which hasnt only failed to lead in a single game this season but fell to 0-6 for the first time in its history. Juan Pierre paced the Pale Hose with three hits, while Alex Rios, Paul Konerko, Lillibridge and Alexei Ramirez chipped in two apiece.

Sox Notes: Dunn still healing, feels feisty

The White Sox jumped ahead with three more early runs, two in the first off a two-run double misplayed by left fielder Sam Fuld, one in the third when Konerko tapped home Rios, who had doubled again and now stands at 7-11 career vs. Rays starter David Price.

Weve got a lot of dangerous hitters in our lineup, so its not the end of the world if you dont get the job done, said Konerko, who is hitting .360 on the season and set a White Sox record by driving home at least one run home in each of the first six games of the season.

But the story of the day was Jackson and an outing that Rays manager Joe Maddon characterized as more skillfully pitched than Jacksons no-hitter in 2010, tweeting after the game that Edwin had better command today then in his no-hitter against us last year. We weren't pressinghe was that good.

Jackson, even keel in that hell aw-shuck his way through good and bad both, could see his former managers point.

I mean, definitely this game is up there, Jackson said. Any time Im able to go out and get in an early rhythm, get outs quick and attack the strike zone, I like my odds. I have trouble in games when I get behind in the counts and have to throw strikes. There werent too many times where I had to do that today and when I did, I was able to make a quality pitch for an out.

He threw greateverything was working today, catcher A.J. Pierzynski said. He had all pitches going. He threw strikesthats the main thing. If he gets ahead against anyone, hes tough. I remember facing him. You didnt want him to get ahead of you because then it was, Oh boy, I got to try to hit this slider. Its as good as any slider there is. He continually got ahead of guys Once we got the lead, he got better and better as we went.

Jackson is characterized as a power pitcher but has long eschewed talk of him being all brawn and no savvy. Case in point: The fireballer doesnt count Ks.

I never really count the strikeouts, Jackson said. I really didnt know how many I had. I knew I had a lot. If you would have asked me an exact number, I probably wouldnt have been close. My main objective is get outs any way I can, either putting the ball in play or strikeouts.

Thats a blessing when youre a strikeout pitcher, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said. His breaking pitches today were outstanding. He got into breaking ball counts, threw them and made those guys swing.

Pre-Velo

The fluke of schedule that had Jackson starting the home debut on Thursday, was one that the pitcher was eager to capitalize on.

Theres no jitters or anything right now, Jackson told CSNChicago.com on Wednesday. Its Opening Day at U.S. Cellular. Im sure it could be something exciting to see the crowds reaction. It would be even better to go out there and cap it off with a win.

Jackson was dominant in his home debut, setting a new career K mark (13) and retiring 20 of 21 batters to start the game (everyone except Fuld, who led off the game with a single) and allowing just four hits to the defending A.L. East champion Tampa Rays.

Jackson has proven a popular pitcher for the Pale Hose, but thats something the young righthander knows can turn at any time.

Ill only stay that way if I have a good game, Jackson laughed. Its always good if you can go out and have somewhat of a good day Opening Day, anywhere, regardless of whether its Chicago or anywhere else you play. You want to give the fans something positive to look forward to all season.

Thats just what Jackson has done, with an opener for the ages.

Its like youre opening the season all over again, Jackson said of his season opening honor. National anthem, lineups called outits like a brand-new Opening Day.

It would be easy to say that Jackson was a brand-new pitcher with his excellent work on Thursday, but as the strongest starter from the second half of 2010, hes just keeping on.

Asked about wanting to earn an A for his work on Opening Day, likening the pomp and circumstance to the first day of school, Jackson laughed in assertion.

Today, chalk Velo up for an A-plus.

Slip sliding

Perhaps the most devastating out pitch any White Sox starter has in his arsenal, with the possible exception of Mark Buehrles changeup, is Jacksons slider, which was as sharp as its ever been during Thursdays win, accounting for 12 of Velos 13 strikeouts.

I had a lot of strikeouts with the sliders, he said. I was able to mix it up a little bit in the count, keep them off-balanceyou know, put them away when I had chances to.

Interestingly, neither Jackson nor Pierzynski had any notion that the hurler would be so untouchable today.

Thats why they call it warming upthats exactly what it is, Jackson said by way of explaining why. I had some of my best games after some of my worst bullpens. I tried to go in and find a rhythm in the pen and bring it out to the game. Sometimes its not that easy. The main thing in the bullpen is get warm and ready for the first inning.

A guy can be pitching really well warming up and you still dont know how a hitter is going to react to his stuff, Pierzynski said. But the thing about Edwin is, when hes on, he can be unhittable.

Cool runnings

Jackson was pumped up before the home opener, so much so that he was walking through the White Sox dugout in short sleeves, seemingly impervious to the near-freezing temperatures.

I really wasnt cold, but I came out to see how cold it was and get used to the temperature. It really wasnt as bad as I thought.

With a gametime temp of 39 degrees and Jackson hailing from Georgia, Jackson proved he had some grit, throwing in the game with bare arms up to his elbows.

Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.coms White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox information.

Nick Madrigal left out of Keith Law's top 100 prospect list

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Laura Wolff/Charlotte Knights

Nick Madrigal left out of Keith Law's top 100 prospect list

There are plenty of prospect rankings in the baseball world and typically some level of consensus is formed among where prospects fall.

As far as the White Sox are concerned, Luis Robert is a top 10 prospect in baseball by just about everyone, Michael Kopech is usually in the top 20 or 30 and Andrew Vaughn and Nick Madrigal aren’t too far behind.

Keith Law of The Athletic sees it differently for one of those four. Law released his top 100 prospects on Monday and featured just three White Sox prospects.

Robert came in at No. 6, Kopech was at No. 16 and Vaughn was ranked 28th. There was no Madrigal though.

Madrigal is ranked 40 by MLB Pipeline, 48 by Baseball America, 41 by Fangraphs and even as high as 13 on Baseball Prospectus. Law is the outlier here and he got plenty of questions about it.


The argument against Madrigal is fairly obvious. He has almost no power. The question is can he overcome that and still bring value to a team? Most scouts have said yes.

Madrigal’s notable skill is his elite contact rate. He almost never strikes out, which tends to lead to a high batting average. Madrigal is also a good defender who is noted as a smart baserunner. Throw those things together and you have a solid contributor to a big league team, but far from a star.

Offensively, Madrigal will have to consistently hit for a high average to overcome his lack of power. He has four home runs in 163 games in the minors. He won’t be an OPS hero by any stretch. That said, he hit .311 across three levels of the minors in 2019, including a .331 batting average in 29 games in Triple-A.

If Law thinks Madrigal’s contact skills are very good as opposed to elite and doesn’t believe in growth in other parts of his game, it’s reasonable to think he’s not a top 100 prospect. Still, this is the minority opinion at this point.

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Yasmani Grandal hard at work molding pitching staff that drew him to White Sox

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AP

Yasmani Grandal hard at work molding pitching staff that drew him to White Sox

It should come as no surprise that Yasmani Grandal is already making a big impact, even in the early weeks of spring training.

After all, his impact was being felt before anyone even showed up to Camelback Ranch.

But the team’s new No. 1 catcher — perhaps its most important acquisition during a busy offseason — has expectedly gotten to work with a White Sox pitching staff that helped draw him to the South Side.

“I don't care where I'm going as long as I see a future in the pitching staff,” he said back in November, after he signed his team-record contract. “If I see that I can help that pitching staff, for me, that's pretty much No. 1. So their sales pitch was that: ‘Look at the young arms we have, look at the guys we have coming up. We have an opportunity here to win, and we think you can help them out.’”

Certainly there’s a ton of promise with these young pitchers. Lucas Giolito already morphed himself from the pitcher with the worst statistics in baseball to an All Star last season. Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez all have front-of-the-rotation potential, as well.

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t question marks. Giolito has to show his transformation was a permanent one. Kopech is finally returning from Tommy John surgery, and though he’s still ranked as one of the top pitching prospects in baseball, he’s got just four big league starts under his belt. Cease and Lopez could be the White Sox biggest mysteries heading into the 2020 campaign after they put up some ugly numbers in 2019.

Grandal should be able to help move all those guys in positive directions, and he’s started on that work early this spring. After catching bullpen sessions from Kopech and Lopez, he stuck around for lengthy chats to discuss what he saw. The same was true after Cease threw live batting practice last week, sitting in the dugout for an extended talk.

This might not be incredibly unusual behavior, especially for a catcher who hasn’t caught any of these guys before, getting to know his pitching staff ahead of the regular season. But Grandal’s desire to help develop these pitchers into the type of hurlers the White Sox believe they can be has been evident.

For him, that’s business as usual.

“We’re as strong as our weakest link, right?” he said in the early days of White Sox camp. “I feel like we need to make everybody better, it doesn’t matter if you’re a reliever or a position player. I’m going to do my homework on everybody and make sure everybody is on the same page and then we’ll go from there. We’ll make adjustments as the year goes on.

“The quicker we can do it, the better.”

Grandal figures to help these White Sox in a lot of different ways, hence why they handed him a four-year deal that, until options are exercised on some of the other contracts the team gave out this winter, is the richest in club history. He’s fresh off a career year at the dish that could land him right in the thick of Rick Renteria’s lineup. After ranking in the top five in baseball with 109 walks in 2019, he’s hoping some of his on-base skills might catch on with his new teammates. There’s the pitch-framing, a skill which is still valuable as we await baseball’s robot revolution. Grandal’s one of the best in the game at it. And his work ethic and love of baseball-related homework leaps out at anyone who talks with him.

It all adds up to a guy who can’t help but make his presence felt right away.

“I could tell right off the bat that it was going to be great for us,” Giolito said. “Obviously, he’s proving that to be true, even in these early days of spring training. Very in-depth conversations with each pitcher that he’s working with. … He’s kind of introducing us to some things that he’s learned along the way, which is exactly what we need for an organization trying to turn that page. He’s coming from winning organizations. He knows what it takes, and he’s implementing that whole-heartedly.”

“The conversations he has with the coaches, the conversations he has with some of the young starters, in terms of preparation, in terms of adjustments, in terms of game-planning, he’s just a pleasure to have around and an outstanding baseball guy who’s going to help this team not just with what he does offensively or even from the defensive-metrics standpoint, but just from an all-around culture and environment standpoint, as well,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “And that’s come through early.”

As Giolito mentioned, Grandal’s winning experience could prove one of his bigger contributions as the White Sox look to snap a playoff drought that’s lasted more than a decade. A talented roster has legitimate postseason expectations in 2020, and considering Grandal’s played in the last five postseasons, that’s a valuable asset to have in the fold.

Making a team-wide jump from rebuilding mode to contenting mode happens on a day-by-day basis, sometimes an inning-by-inning or pitch-by-pitch basis. That’s the kind of work Grandal can help the White Sox do and do well.

“He’s been around the block,” Renteria said. “He’s got a lot of high-impact, high-leverage type experiences in his major league career, and that helps, in many instances, slow things down a lot. So right now, when we’re focusing on trying to clean up and do things that will help our pitchers and any other aspect of the game get better, he’s able to step in and do certain things that allow us to do that.”

“Stuff at game speed goes a little bit quicker,” Kopech said. “It can kind of get away from you if you don’t take control of it. And I think that’s what he’s going to be able to help us with, at game speed, because he’s been there at game speed for a long time. He’s going to help be able to slow the game down for us and stuff like that.”

Considering Grandal is under contract for the next four seasons and that he is set for a prominent role both at and behind the plate, his signing could be the biggest deal among a ton of big deals during the just completed White Sox offseason. His part in the big league portion of development for these young pitchers — and remember, there’s more of them on the way, like Dane Dunning, Jimmy Lambert and Jonathan Stiever — will be just as crucial.

Grandal will touch much of the final stage of this rebuilding project. And if the results are as positive as his first impression has been at Camelback Ranch, then the White Sox will probably consider that team-record contract well worth it.

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