White Sox

Jose Abreu helps White Sox rally to tie record for April wins

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Associated Press

Jose Abreu helps White Sox rally to tie record for April wins

BALTIMORE -- The White Sox closed a record-tying April in the most appropriate of ways -- with another heavy dose of late-inning magic.

Jose Abreu made up for a costly error with two late RBIs, including singling in the go-ahead run in the ninth, and the White Sox tied a team record for April victories with an 8-7 win over the Baltimore Orioles in front of 29,152 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Playing without manager Robin Ventura, who was ejected after a controversial review in the fourth, the White Sox scored five times in the final three innings to rally for win No. 17. They finished the season’s opening month with a 17-8 mark to tie the 2000, 2005 and 2006 clubs for most April victories.

“I’ll put a lot of money with Jose at the plate with runners in scoring position,” Adam Eaton said. “We got the job done. Good team win. Not really how we drew it up, but it shows character with the team for sure. Battling back, each delivering punches and for us to get the last punch in there … Huge night for us.”

It was in particular a big showing for Abreu, who entered the game with a .220 average and 11 RBIs, his fewest in April in three seasons. The occasion became even bigger after Abreu’s fielding error in the eighth -- one of two by the White Sox -- extended the inning for Matt Albers.

With the White Sox leading 7-5, Abreu couldn’t handle a nice throw by Todd Frazier with two outs in the eighth and Manny Machado reached. Albers -- whose scoreless streak was snapped after 33 1/3 innings -- hit Adam Jones with the next pitch and Chris Davis followed with a game-tying, two-run double off Zach Duke.

But a team that has scored 49 of its 95 runs (51.6 percent) from the seventh inning came through again.

Eaton started the winning rally with a bunt single off Orioles closer Zach Britton, who exited the game as he injured himself retrieving the ball. Carlos Sanchez then walked against reliever Vance Worley to set up Abreu, who also singled in the tying run in an eighth-inning rally. Abreu drove an 0-1 cutter from Worley to right and Eaton slid in to home ahead of the throw from Joey Rickard. Nate Jones, who got the final out in the eighth, retired the side in order in the ninth to close it out.

The White Sox also rallied back from a pair of earlier deficits, long after Orioles starter Kevin Gausman departed.

Brett Lawrie, who had a solo homer in the third, walked and stole second base in the seventh and Austin Jackson singled after a 10-pitch battle with Mychal Givens to get the White Sox within 5-4.

The White Sox scored three runs off Darren O’Day, who hadn’t allowed a run all season. Sanchez had a pinch-hit double to open the eighth inning and scored on Abreu’s tying RBI single to right. Frazier blasted a 411-foot homer -- his seventh -- to center to put the White Sox up 7-5. The team’s 49 runs from the seventh inning on are the most in the American League. The White Sox, who finished with 10 hits, also have six comeback wins.

“It seemed like everybody picked everybody up tonight,” Frazier said. “It’s just a good character builder here.”

The offense came through for starter Mat Latos, who had his worst start of the season. The Orioles tried often to go the opposite way against Latos and it worked to the tune of four runs and 11 hits.

Baltimore had at least two hits in four of the five innings that Latos worked, including solo homers by Pedro Alvarez and Jonathan Schoop to tie it at 3 in the fourth.  

Latos allowed two hits to start the third, but was spared more damage when Adam Jones grounded into a controversial 5-4 double play that resulted in the 12th ejection of Ventura’s career.

Machado, who had singled ahead of Jones, slid late into second base and made contact with the leg of Lawrie, who never threw to first. Ventura asked for a review as Machado appeared to be in violation of the new slide rule. After a stoppage of at least six minutes, review officials determined that Machado didn’t interfere on the play and Jones was safe at first. Ventura immediately argued the call and loss of challenge with crew chief Gerry Davis, who ejected him.

But Latos pitched around it. He stranded two more runners on in the fourth to keep the score tied, but Baltimore pulled ahead in the fifth as Latos walked Matt Wieters and Alvarez doubled deep to center to make it 4-3.

Latos saw his ERA increase to 1.84 from 0.74.

“I was fortunate,” Latos said. “The offense showed up and put up a bunch of runs on the board and the defense showed up and we were able to get away with a really good win, a hard fought win.”

Ventura is pleased with how his team has handled its early success. Even though the White Sox have proven to be a fiery team in the dugout, Ventura thinks his veteran core has helped them keep a level head. While he’s pleased with the team’s April, he doesn’t think White Sox players will get ahead of themselves.

“They're looking for Sunday,” Ventura said. “They're excited about the win, no doubt, the way they're playing. But very good group about focusing on what's at hand and not looking in the rear view mirror.”

Remember That Guy: Rocky Biddle

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AP Images

Remember That Guy: Rocky Biddle

The movie Rocky premiered on November 21, 1976. However, exactly six months earlier, Lee Francis Biddle was born in Las Vegas. You may remember him by his nickname, Rocky.

The 6’3” 230 lb righthander was drafted by the Padres out of Temple City (CA) High School in the 25th round in 1994, but did not sign. He did sign, however, when the White Sox took him with the 51st overall pick in 1997 out of Long Beach State. The Sox selected Jim Parque five picks before Biddle, who was one of five White Sox compensation picks at the end of the first round; his selection was awarded to the White Sox for failure to sign 12th overall pick Bobby Seay the year prior.

Rocky’s road to the Majors was detoured by Tommy John Surgery on March 2, 1999 which wiped out his entire season. When he returned to the mound in 2000 for Birmingham, he thrived, finishing up at 11-6 with a 3.08 ERA, including a pair of shutouts and a Southern League All-Star nod.

The big righthander got the call to the Majors on August 10 as Manager Jerry Manuel wanted to break up lefties Mike Sirotka & Jim Parque in the rotation. Biddle was the fourth White Sox pitcher to debut in the Majors since July 1, after Jon Garland (July 4), Mark Buehrle (July 16) & Lorenzo Barcelo (July 22), which was unusual for a team with an 8-game lead in their division, but the Sox rolled with their rookies (as well as veteran James Baldwin) all the way to an AL Central title at 95-67.

A demotion for Kip Wells & elbow injury for Cal Eldred opened up a spot for Biddle to stay. Rocky the rookie had a rough start in his debut (8 Hits, 6 Runs in 5.1 innings) but a veteran spoke up in his defense (quote from the Chicago Tribune):

"The guy has major-league stuff," Frank Thomas said. "He handled [Alex] Rodriguez, [Edgar] Martinez and [John] Olerud, three of the best hitters in the game. They were 0 for 9 against him. He looked like a veteran. So, he made some mistakes to [Mike] Cameron and [Joe] Oliver ... so what? Those are two good hitters too. Rocky doesn't deserve that kind of [criticism] after one start. Give the kid a chance. He's going to be a very good pitcher."

After all, not many pitchers can claim to have retired Alex Rodriguez AND Edgar Martinez in their first career Major League inning.

Biddle readied himself for his next start by kicking a hacky sack in front of his locker. When asked for comment, he said:

"No one else plays it here, I guess it's not kosher."

Maybe it worked. He collected his first career win in that second start, August 15 at Baltimore, as the White Sox went on to win big, 14-4.

Biddle did just fine, with six hits and four runs allowed in seven innings before being relieved by Mark Buehrle. There was a piece of White Sox history hidden in the box score of Rocky Biddle’s first big league win: future Hall of Famer Harold Baines hit his final career MLB home run (#384) – a 3-run blast off Jason Johnson in the 4th inning to give the Sox a 9-2 lead.

After the win, Rocky received a cold beer shower and when asked about it he replied ` . . . I think it froze part of my brain.'

Unfortunately, Biddle’s run of success was short-lived. He allowed 15 runs (11 earned) over his next two starts before being sent back down for the remainder of the season. He posted an ERA of 8.34 in his first taste of MLB action.

Biddle competed for the fifth spot in the rotation in spring 2001. A 9.42 ERA in eight spring appearances didn’t help his cause, though he still made the roster as a reliever. A few weeks into the season Biddle was back in the rotation due to Cal Eldred’s continued injury struggles. 2001 was a big letdown for the White Sox, falling to third in the standings, as Jim Parque & new addition David Wells went down with injuries. Even Frank Thomas suffered a season-ending arm injury while diving for a ball in May. Eventually Biddle himself needed shoulder surgery at the end of the season. He started 2002 on the DL and when he was healthy he spent most of his time in the bullpen with an occasional spot start here and there.

On September 19 he had his best start of the season – his lone quality start of 2002 with six innings of two-run ball against the Royals at Comiskey Park. Unfortunately what should have been remembered as a solid pitcher’s duel between Biddle & Paul Byrd was overshadowed by a father and son duo who attacked Royals first base coach Tom Gamboa in the 9th inning. Biddle finished his season with a win in his next start – a five-inning effort against the Red Sox. It was the last time he pitched for the White Sox.

The White Sox dreamt of a rotation with promising arms such as Rocky Biddle, Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Kip Wells & Jon Rauch. While Buehrle & Garland went on to huge things, it never quite happened for the other three.

In January 2003, the White Sox sent Rocky Biddle to Montreal along with Orlando Hernández (who had been acquired from the Yankees that day), Jeff Liefer & cash for Bartolo Colón & minor leaguer Jorge Nuñez.

Biddle posted a 4.65 ERA in 73 relief appearances in his first season for the Expos – not the greatest numbers -  but he did record 34 saves. It’s the last 30+ save season in Montreal Expos history, as well as the only 30-save season by a pitcher born in Nevada, though Brandon Kintzler (29 in 2017) and Mike MacDougal (27 in 2003) both have come really close.

After one more season Biddle was released by the Expos, who not only moved on from Biddle but moved on from Montreal to become the Washington Nationals for 2005.

In five career Major League seasons, Biddle posted a 20-30 record with a 5.47 ERA and 46 saves in 198 games for the White Sox & Expos. He’s one of four Rockys in White Sox history, along with Rocky Krsnich (1949, 1952-53), Rocky Nelson (1951) & Rocky Colavito (1967).

Rocky Biddle. Remember that guy? 

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State of the White Sox: Right field

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USA TODAY

State of the White Sox: Right field

The 2019 season is over, and the White Sox — who have been focusing on the future for quite some time now — are faced with an important offseason, one that could set up a 2020 campaign with hopes of playoff contention.

With the postseason in swing and a little bit still before the hot stove starts cooking, let’s take a position-by-position look at where the White Sox stand, what they’re looking to accomplish this winter and what we expect to see in 2020 and beyond.

We’re moving on to right field.

What happened in 2019

In a word, disappointment. The guys who were supposed to man the position at the big league level barely did.

Daniel Palka went from a 27-homer rookie season to 0-for-his-first-32 and then to Triple-A Charlotte after picking up his first hit of the season. He briefly returned for an 0-for-10 stint in the middle of the summer and then went 8-for-his-last-39 as a September call-up. Even if his defense in the outfield was a huge question mark heading into the season, his bat wasn’t supposed to be. But after his breakout rookie year, he fizzled and ended up being a non-factor in 2019.

The same status befell Jon Jay, one of the team’s veteran offseason additions who was, at the very least, supposed to bring a strong presence to the clubhouse and better on-base skills to the lineup. But an injury suffered in spring training kept him from even entering a major league game until late June. He played in 47 games, with an underwhelming .267/.311/.315 slash line, before hitting the injured list again at the end of August, undergoing season-ending surgery on his hip.

All that led to a rotating cast of right fielders, few of whom produced in any significant way at the plate. Ryan Cordell and his .221/.290/.355 slash line played by far the most games out there, 72. Leury Garcia’s trip around the outfield included 45 games in right. Jay played 33 out there, Charlie Tilson played 30 and Palka played 23.

And so at season’s end, it was unsurprising to see some horrific numbers from the position: a .220/.277/.288 slash line, numbers that ranked 23rd, 29th and 30th, respectively, among baseball’s 30 teams.

As bad as that was, though, the even more concerning developments for the long-term fortunes of the team took place at the minor league level. The White Sox future in right field was always less certain than elsewhere on the field, but until this season that was because of the sheer volume of possibilities to emerge from a promising second tier of prospects.

Nearly all those outfield prospects — save Luis Robert, of course, who’s ticketed for center field — fell victim to an organization-wide rash of injuries and under-performance, leaving few promising options left standing:

— Luis Basabe broke his hamate bone in spring training and slashed .246/.324/.336 at Double-A Birmingham.

— Blake Rutherford slashed .265/.319/.365 at Birmingham, big dips in all three averages from his strong 2018 campaign at Class A Winston-Salem.

— Micker Adolfo had Tommy John surgery in 2018, only to have another season-ending surgery in 2019, this one arthroscopic surgery on his elbow.

— Luis Gonzalez went from a batting average north of .300, an on-base percentage north of .360 and a slugging percentage around .500 in 2018 to a .247/.316/.359 line at Birmingham in 2019.

The only one to emerge relatively unscathed was Steele Walker, who slashed .284/.361/.451 with 36 doubles in 120 games split between Class A squads in Kannapolis and Winston-Salem. But success in A-ball won’t put Walker on a track to help the big league team anytime soon, leaving the cupboard relatively bare in right field for the time being.

What will happen this offseason

So it’s no shock that Rick Hahn has right field as one of the biggest items on his lengthy offseason to-do list.

The White Sox will almost certainly have an outside addition starting in right field when the 2020 season begins. The question now is just who it will be.

As that sampling of the fortunes of the second-tier prospects in the organization illustrates, it might be difficult for the White Sox to pull off a trade for a truly impact player at any position this winter, right field included. That leaves free agency as a more realistic option, and there are definitely some interesting names set to be a part of that market.

Nicholas Castellanos, Yasiel Puig and Marcell Ozuna make up kind of a “big three” in that department. All three would be big-time adds to the middle of the White Sox lineup. Castellanos was obviously excellent with the Cubs in the second half of the season after being acquired from the Detroit Tigers, with whom he made a habit of crushing White Sox pitching. Puig’s numbers were also good following his intra-state trade to the Cleveland Indians, slashing .297/.377/.423 in 49 games there. Ozuna had a down year by his standards, but his excellent performance in the NLDS is part of the reason the St. Louis Cardinals are still playing October baseball.

All three of those players have another thing in common besides their pending free agency, and that’s their right-handedness. The White Sox lineup of the present and future is almost exclusively right-handed, meaning Hahn might take the opportunity this winter to balance that out a bit by adding a left-handed bat. He talked about it at his end-of-season press conference, expressing a desire to do so while also saying getting good players regardless of where they stand at home plate is a bigger priority.

“Ideally, you'd like to balance that out and that would require adding some left-handed power,” Hahn said. “We don't want to get too hung up strictly on handedness in the end and sign an inferior, say, left-handed hitter when a better right-handed hitter is available and fits. But it's a consideration, and in an ideal world we would balance it out.”

If Hahn sees the hole in right field as his best opportunity to add that left-handed hitting, the best free-agent options available who fit such a description are Kole Calhoun, who hit 33 home runs for the Los Angeles Angels this season, and Corey Dickerson, who slugged .565 splitting time between the two Pennsylvania teams. Neither player really revs the engines like Castellanos, Puig or Ozuna would, but that shouldn’t override their potential usefulness. Either would probably look like a pretty solid addition if Hahn were to fill the hole at designated hitter with a star like J.D. Martinez.

And then there’s the trade market, which could also bear fruit if Hahn’s able to cobble together an attractive package. That list of candidates is a mile long, and we went through a number of possibilities on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

The bottom line is that this offseason will almost surely feature the White Sox acquiring a brand-new everyday right fielder.

What to expect for 2020 and beyond

It’s hard to figure out what to expect next season before we know who the White Sox right fielder will be. You’d have to expect significant offensive improvement at the position as a whole simply because there’s nowhere to go but up.

If Hahn makes a splash in right by adding someone on the Castellanos/Puig/Ozuna level, even if it’s not one of those three guys, that would figure to be a longer-term solution. But a shorter-term fix is possible, too, with an eye kept on the minors to see who among that list of prospects could have an entirely plausible bounce-back campaign that thrusts their name back into those long-term projections.

In other words, the future in right field remains the mystery it’s been all along.

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