White Sox

Jose Quintana, bullpen lead White Sox to third straight win

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Jose Quintana, bullpen lead White Sox to third straight win

CLEVELAND -- The offspeed stuff wasn’t there and his pitch count soared but Jose Quintana had run support and a hot bullpen at his manager’s disposal.

The starting pitcher and catcher Tyler Flowers quickly changed strategies and did enough to pass the baton as the White Sox downed the Cleveland Indians 4-1 at Progressive Field on Tuesday night. Jose Abreu homered and the trio of Dan Jennings, Zach Duke and David Robertson struck out eight in three innings as the White Sox earned their third straight victory.

“Q was erratic,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “It wasn’t really the control that you’d like to see. But he battled.

“He’s a strong kid, he battles and at least gets you to the point where you can get the bullpen in there. He bobbed and weaved as well as he could.”

Quintana said the cool, crisp air gave him trouble as he couldn’t grip the ball how he would have liked. More than a handful of times, Quintana appeared to lick his left hand to get a better feel.

While he had no trouble throwing his fastball, Quintana struggled to locate his curve, only throwing it for eight strikes in 24 tries.

[SHOP: Gear up, White Sox fans!]

“I feel uncomfortable with my hands,” Quintana said. “I try to fight every inning and keep the game close and get the win.

“A little bit dry. I feel a little bit dry, but this is the first month of the year. It’s a little bit cold. No matter what happens you try to do your job good.”

Poor offspeed command — he went to seven three-ball counts in 23 batters — and a Conor Gillaspie error didn’t help matters. Gillaspie’s third-inning miscue meant Quintana needed to throw 11 extra pitches to get out of the frame. Quintana had thrown 63 pitches through three innings.

That’s when he and Flowers switched plans and went with a more aggressive fastball-based approach. Following a two-out RBI double by Ryan Raburn in the fourth inning that cut the White Sox lead to 3-1, Quintana retired seven straight. He needed only eight pitches to retire the side in order in the fifth inning and set down Cleveland’s 3-4-5 hitters in the sixth.

Of the 104 pitches thrown by Quintana — who allowed an unearned run and three hits with two walks and six strikeouts in six innings — 70 were fastballs.

“Really nice job with not all his weapons,” Flowers said. “That’s a sign of a very good pitcher and he’s always been more of a command guy, but he’s been a command guy with all of his pitches. When that happens you expect six, seven out of him and a run or less. Saying that, today was even more impressive just really relying on fastball command and the occasional wrinkle in there.”

[MORE: White Sox rotation juggle could have top starters facing Tigers]

Quintana had plenty of help.

As Duke noted, the bullpen is “on a good roll.”

Jennings pitched around a two-out walk and an Alexei Ramirez two-base error to keep the lead at three runs in the seventh. Duke struck out the Indians’ 2-3-4 hitters in order in the eighth and Robertson did the same in the ninth.

The offense gave Quintana some early wiggle room with which to work.

Adam Eaton and Melky Cabrera opened the game with consecutive singles off Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco, who was knocked out of the contest when he was struck by a liner off the latter’s bat. Cabrera’s line drive glanced off Carrasco’s glove and struck the pitcher on the jaw sending him to the ground immediately.

Carrasco didn’t move for several minutes before he was carted off the field. The Cleveland pitcher went to a local hospital where X-rays were negative and he showed no symptoms of a concussion or head injury and was being treated for a jaw contusion.

The White Sox took advantage of the situation as Adam LaRoche had an RBI groundout to make it 1-0 and Avisail Garcia’s two-out single off Zach McAllister gave them a two-run advantage.

Flowers made it 3-0 in the fourth with a two-out RBI single, one of two hits and Abreu regained the three-run lead with a 387-foot homer off Nick Hagadone in the fifth.

“I’m happy with this outing, and tomorrow I will prepare for my next start,” Quintana said. “I feel this is a new start for us.”

Despite midseason slump, Jose Abreu is moving toward a fifth straight season of 25 homers and 100 RBIs

Despite midseason slump, Jose Abreu is moving toward a fifth straight season of 25 homers and 100 RBIs

When Jose Abreu went to the All-Star Game — voted in as the starting first baseman for the American League squad — he was of course deserving as an incredibly consistent performer through his first four seasons in the big leagues and his role as the face of the White Sox.

But the numbers weren't looking so good in mid July. An extended slump had Abreu looking very un-Abreu-like, perhaps heading toward his worst statistical season since arriving in the majors from Cuba ahead of his 2014 Rookie of the Year campaign.

At the close of the first half, he was slashing .253/.311/.441 with 13 home runs and 52 RBIs, a far cry from the .301/.359/.524 slash line he put up through his first four seasons, when he also joined Albert Pujols and Joe DiMaggio as the only players ever to start their careers with a quartet of 25-homer, 100-RBI campaigns.

But Abreu, who's been a very good second-half hitter during his career, is on a hot streak that's powering his way back to his version of normal. And it's looking like he could again reach the numbers we're so used to seeing from him by season's end.

After a one-homer, three-hit, three-RBI day in Wednesday afternoon's win over the Detroit Tigers, Abreu is up to .268/.327/.484 on the campaign with 21 homers and 73 RBIs. That puts him nine homers and 27 RBIs away from the mark he's hit in each of his first four seasons with 42 games left in the season. It's not at all unreasonable to suggest he'll be able to do that, as he's hit eight homers and driven in 21 runs in his last 22 games.

He'd have to be some kind of dialed-in for the remainder of 2018 to bump the averages back to where they've been in recent seasons. But here's the kind of hot streak he's on now: Since the start of the second half, Abreu is slashing .323/.385/.646. And that's not too crazy when you realize how good he's been in the second half in his career. Coming into Wednesday's game, his career second-half stat line looked like this: a .314/.381/.540 slash line with 61 homers and 199 RBIs in 303 games.

For the White Sox, the confidence was always there that Abreu was going to snap out of the extended slump that saw him slash .180/.230/.308 from May 27 to the end of the first half, and he's done exactly that. Now, he's hot enough that he's inspiring confidence he could return to some of his regular numbers by season's end. It's that kind of consistency, coupled with his off-the-field value, that makes the team think so highly of him and could keep him around long enough for the rebuilding process to yield a perennial contender on the South Side.

A lot can change, but who are the favorites to make up the White Sox rotation of the future?

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USA TODAY

A lot can change, but who are the favorites to make up the White Sox rotation of the future?

The White Sox seem to be a couple years away from shifting from rebuilding mode to contention mode. There's plenty of development that still needs to occur at both the major league and minor league levels before the roster of the future comes fully into focus.

But with some excellent performances happening right now, is the White Sox rotation of the future falling into place? At least a little?

Look at this:

— Carlos Rodon, last seven starts: 1.60 ERA, 42 strikeouts
— Michael Kopech, last six starts: 1.89 ERA, 50 strikeouts
— Dylan Cease, last seven starts: 1.08 ERA, 57 strikeouts
— Dane Dunning, last five starts (back in June): 2.08 ERA, 38 strikeouts

Kind of looks like four-fifths of a starting rotation, doesn't it?

As has often been discussed, the White Sox have a good deal of starting pitching depth, and there are plenty of possibilities to fill that starting staff down the line. Heretofore unmentioned are pitching prospects Alec Hansen, Jordan Stephens, Jimmy Lambert and Bernardo Flores, all ranked among the organization's top 25 prospects, as well as current big leaguers Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, who have each had their flashes of brilliance this season on the major league stage.

But the four guys listed above have been very, very good this season, especially recently, making it easy to envision them making up 80 percent of the starting rotation the next time the White Sox are competing for a championship.

Let's start with Rodon, who extended his streak of great starts to seven in Wednesday afternoon's win over the Detroit Tigers. He went eight innings for the second outing in a row, and he's now pitched into the eighth inning in five of his last six starts. He's got a 1.60 ERA in his last seven starts, with 42 strikeouts in that span. Wednesday, he bounced back from a rocky three-run third inning and finished with just three runs allowed on five hits and a walk, adding six strikeouts. Quite simply, he's been ace-like and done well to answer the health-related questions he brought into the season, when shoulder surgery prevented him from debuting until June for the second straight campaign.

Then there are the two guys putting up monster numbers in the minor leagues: Kopech and Cease.

The 22-year-old Kopech has moved past some midseason struggles and has been downright electric of late at Triple-A Charlotte. In his last six starts, Kopech has a 1.89 ERA with 50 strikeouts and a jaw-droppingly low four walks in 38 innings. It's quite the turnaround for a guy who was having difficulty keeping the walk numbers low earlier this season. But he's come out the other side pitching as well as he has since joining the White Sox organization prior to last season, which is saying a lot considering he struck out 172 hitters in 2017. He's just 11 strikeouts away from matching that total this year. He could make his major league debut before the 2018 season is over.

And then there's Cease, also 22, who wasn't even the most talked-about player in his own trade, coming over from the Cubs along with Eloy Jimenez in last summer's crosstown swap. Cease has been a tremendous surprise for the White Sox this season, not because they didn't think he'd be great but because he's been the organization's best pitcher. And he's continued that trend in his seven most recent starts at Double-A Birmingham, too, with a razor-thin 1.08 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 41.2 innings. He deservedly represented the White Sox at the Futures Game during All-Star week in Washington, D.C., last month and appears to be well on his way to earning the team's minor league pitcher of the year honors.

And for a fourth, how about a guy who hasn't pitched in a month and a half? Dunning has an elbow injury that's kept him out since late June, but prior to that, he was putting up terrific numbers at Double-A Birmingham. In his last five starts before hitting the DL, he had a 2.08 ERA with 38 strikeouts in 30.1 innings. And he might be making some progress, if a recent tweet is any indication.

Now, as mentioned, there's a lot that can and will happen before the starting staff is set on the next White Sox team that will contend for a championship. But this kind of positive production from these four guys stokes the idea of a potentially dominant rotation of the future.

At the very least, this quartet seems to be making life easy for the legion of 2020 lineup projectors out there.