White Sox

J.B. Shuck plays hero in delivering game-winner for White Sox

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J.B. Shuck plays hero in delivering game-winner for White Sox

The first game-winning hit and RBI of the 2015 season belongs to J.B. Shuck.

Raise your hand if you had that prediction before the baseball season got going.

It hasn’t been an easy first week for the White Sox, what with four losses in their first four games. In those four defeats, they were outscored, 28-7.

And while Saturday afternoon’s turnaround from a 4-0 deficit had many key players — Adam LaRoche and Geovany Soto belted home runs, Jeff Samardzija settled down after a rough start to go seven innings and David Robertson struck out all three hitters he faced in the ninth — the biggest moment belonged to Shuck, who stepped in as a pinch hitter and delivered the biggest run of the White Sox young season in a 5-4 win over the Twins.

[MORE WHITE SOX: New faces rally White Sox to first win of season]

“I made sure I was loose and ready to go, took some flips in the cage, and if it was going to happen I was ready to go,” Shuck said after the game.

“It’s something you get used to. It’s a battle. You’re going to get great pitchers almost every time you pinch hit, so you’ve just got to really focus on getting the job done and sticking to your gameplan.”

The White Sox made two quick outs to start the bottom of the eighth with the game tied at 4. But Alexei Ramirez kept things alive with an infield single (which was more the result of a bad throw from Twins shortstop Danny Santana), and Conor Gillaspie followed with a double down the right-field line.

It was Soto’s turn to hit, and he’d gone 2-for-3 with a home run and a deep fly out in his at-bats. But Robin Ventura picked Shuck, and he made his manager look good by dropping a base hit into left field that scored Ramirez as the go-ahead run. Gillaspie was thrown out at home trying to score on the hit, but it didn’t matter, the White Sox had the lead.

“We were really excited,” Soto said. “It was really an exiting time. ... Gave us the lead into the ninth. I’m not going to lie, it was an awesome feeling to get that run into the ninth and see our closer close a game and get a ‘W.’ That was pretty cool.”

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As for the decision to go with the pinch-hitter Shuck over the hot bat of Soto? Ventura said it just came down to the success Shuck had during spring training. He hit .339 with six doubles and five RBIs in Arizona, and that success seems to have translated to the regular season.

“Shuckie with the pinch hit, he's been having great at-bats all spring, and you want a guy in there just fighting for that, scratching and clawing trying to get him in,” Ventura said.

“I thought it was more (going up against a right-handed pitcher with a left-handed batter), but again you are looking at the at-bats J.B. has had all through spring and even in Kansas City. I just felt like it was the right time to have him go up there. Geo had a great game. I thought he did a great job with Jeff, of getting him to (the seventh inning). But I just felt it was a better matchup with J.B. in there.”

Performing in a pinch is Shuck’s role on this team, but with a lineup stacked with Jose Abreus, Adam LaRoches, Avisail Garcias and Melky Cabreras, it’s kind of surprising that it’s Shuck who came through with the first clutch moment of the season.

He’s just happy it meant the White Sox were winners for the first time in 2015.

“It’s a great feeling, but like I said, this was great win,” Shuck said. “This was a good team-building game right here, and I think we’re going to roll with this one.”

Eloy Jimenez has high praise for Luis Robert: 'He's going to be the next Mike Trout'

Eloy Jimenez has high praise for Luis Robert: 'He's going to be the next Mike Trout'

Last spring, Michael Kopech said Eloy Jimenez was the Babe Ruth of this generation. Jimenez returned the favor by calling Kopech this generation's Nolan Ryan.

Well, start blocking out a wing of the Hall of Fame for members of the 2020 White Sox, because we've got another comp for the ages.

Obviously, everyone's very excited to see Luis Robert hit the major leagues. Jimenez is cranking that excitement up to 11.

"Some people are going to call me crazy," he said Friday before SoxFest kicked off at McCormick Place, "but he’s going to be the next Mike Trout.

"He has five tools, and he plays hard like Mike Trout."

Well then.

Trout has long been considered the best baseball player on the planet, someone who's putting up hall of Fame numbers on an annual basis to the extent that folks wonder if he's the best to ever play.

Should Robert come anywhere close to that, White Sox fans will be quite pleased.

Certainly the praise is not entirely unwarranted, with Robert boasting a full toolbox of baseball skills. He's fresh off a 2019 campaign that saw him set the minor leagues on fire: a .328/.376/.624 slash line to go along with 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, 108 runs scored, 31 doubles and 36 stolen bases. Along the way he sent highlight after highlight back to his adoring public on the South Side, clips of him blasting balls into the Charlotte sky, making eye-popping catches and using his blazing speed to great effect.

The defensive skill ought to be especially intriguing to Jimenez, who's going to play next to Robert in the White Sox outfield. But while Jimenez's defensive improvement will continue to be a big focus in 2020, so will Robert's range in center field. Jimenez has a plan, though, if Robert tries to steal away any of his fly balls.

"I’m going to draw a line," Jimenez said with a smile. "If he goes over the line, I’m going to punch him. It’s going to be like that this year."

It was just the minor leagues, of course, but those descriptions aren't terribly dissimilar from the ones frequently assigned to Trout out in Anaheim.

You likely won't hear Rick Hahn or Rick Renteria comparing Robert to the best player in the game, not wanting to put too much pressure on the 22-year-old. Jimenez knows as well as anyone how difficult the transition to the majors can be, even for the most talented athletes in the world. He set the minors ablaze in 2018, only to experience growing pains as opposing pitchers attacked him like a proven veteran.

So seeing something similar from Robert would not be surprising.

"Last year, I was a little bit anxious," Jimenez said, "and I know he’s going to be, too.

"The first year of your contract, you play on Opening Day, it’s going to be a little bit tough for him, too. It’s not going to be (tough) just for him, it’s for anybody who makes the Opening Day roster. It’s a little bit tough because it’s different pitching, it’s different stuff and the pitchers are a lot better at this level.

"He’s going to need someone. But he’s got (Jose) Abreu, he’s got (Yoan) Moncada and he’s got me. So he’s going to be good."

One of the biggest differences between Jimenez's ascent to the major leagues and Robert's is that Robert is joining a White Sox team with playoff expectations. Between the young core that broke out in such a big way last season and all the newcomers Hahn's front office brought in this winter, the White Sox look ready to vault into contention mode. Robert's arrival is a factor in those expectations, too, so while it might seem like the spotlight can be lured away by other players, Jimenez said it will be tough for Robert to adjust to the big leagues in relative obscurity.

"When you have five tools," he said, "everybody’s going to have their eyes on you."

Well put.

If he truly is the next Trout, then he'll never lose that spotlight. Though playing alongside the next Ruth and the next Ryan, a couple fellow future Hall of Famers, ought to help.

That might sound a little crazy, as Jimenez well knows. But he's sticking to that comp.

"You will see."

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Dallas Keuchel apologizes and weighs in on Astros' sign-stealing controversy

Dallas Keuchel apologizes and weighs in on Astros' sign-stealing controversy

Dallas Keuchel met with media ahead of this weekend's SoxFest, and was asked about the recent sign-stealing scandal that's dominated the offseason. 

Keuchel was drafted by Houston in the 7th round of the 2009 Draft, and spent the first seven seasons of his career there. While with the Astros, Keuchel was one of the best pitchers in baseball, posting a 3.72 FIP and a 12.2% K-BB ratio during his time there. 

He was also apart of the 2017 team that now faces intense scrutiny for their use of technology in stealing signs during the World Series. While players have not faced punishment yet for the scandal, Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were both suspended for a year without pay by MLB and then subsequently fired by the Astros. 

Keuchel signed a 3-year, $55 million contract with the White Sox back in late December.